An Overview of the Rules in the USA Regarding the Award of Post-Divorce Spousal Support in 2019

18 Pages Posted: 11 Nov 2019 Last revised: 12 Nov 2019

Date Written: November 8, 2019


In this article, I summarize the various approaches in the USA regarding the award of post-divorce spousal support. In a few states, spousal support is rarely awarded. When it is awarded, the support amount is set at a low amount and the duration of the award is almost always short. In a number of other states, it seems that spousal support is more frequently awarded, and awards can be large if the claimant spouse needs a substantial support award to maintain after divorce the standard of living during the marriage. In marriages of long duration, award duration in these states can be indefinite-until either spouse dies or the recipient remarries. But it appears that, in most states, there seems to be little agreement among judges regarding the award of spousal support. Lawyers report a large variation in approaches among judges in the same area. The spousal support award, if any, that results in any given case is significantly impacted by the judge to whom the matter is assigned.

As a result of this confusion and lack of consistency, some states recently have adopted child support guidelines. Of course, spousal support guidelines are not new in the USA. Some local areas have been applying guidelines for decades. But the guidelines more recently adopted have been adopted statewide for the first time in the U.S. It will be interesting to see how lawyers and judges will evaluate the effectiveness of the recently-adopted guidelines.

I argue that the current level of confusion and lack of clarity in many states regarding spousal support rules should not be allowed to continue. A basic principle of equitable distribution is that a spouse’s post-divorce earnings are not marital property. The award of post-divorce support essentially creates an exception to this important general rule. The principles governing the award of spousal support need to be clarified in some manner so it will be easier to predict and decide when post-divorce earnings should be shared. This could be accomplished by the adoption of a spousal support statute that more clearly sets forth the rules for the award of spousal support. Since few states seem inclined to attempt such a clarification, it seems that guidelines are the most likely way the award of spousal support can be made more consistent in the USA.

Keywords: alimony, spousal support, divorce, equitable distribution, maintenance, guidelines

Suggested Citation

Oldham, J. Thomas, An Overview of the Rules in the USA Regarding the Award of Post-Divorce Spousal Support in 2019 (November 8, 2019). 41 Houston Journal of International Law 525 (2019), U of Houston Law Center No. 2019-A-7, Available at SSRN: or

J. Thomas Oldham (Contact Author)

University of Houston Law Center ( email )

4604 Calhoun Road
Houston, TX 77204-6060
United States

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