Understanding the Difference Between Alimony and Child Support

At first glance, alimony and child support seem quite distinct. Child support goes to support children, while alimony supports a former spouse. However, when you consider that the former spouse is the one accepting and using the child support payments, the differences start to blur quickly.

The reasons for granting support, the support amounts, and the duration of payments differs dramatically for these two types of payments. An experienced family law attorney knows that it is critical to consider the issues surrounding each of these separately as well as the combined impact of the two together in a family situation.

Four Types of Alimony in Massachusetts

Alimony payments can be ordered under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 208, §48 when the court determines that one spouse has need of support and the other has the ability to pay. A former spouse can receive four types of alimony:

  • Reimbursement alimony can be awarded when the couple has been married no more than five years to reimburse a spouse for certain expenses incurred by the other, such as when one helps the other during job training or education.
  • Transitional alimony can be awarded after a marriage of no more than five years to give one spouse the ability to transition to an “adjusted lifestyle” or new location.
  • Rehabilitative alimony is awarded to help a spouse become economically self-sufficient. Usually the judge sets a deadline by which time the spouse receiving rehabilitative alimony should be prepared to support themselves.
  • General term alimony is awarded when one spouse is financially dependent on the other. The law establishes a time limit for general term alimony payments based on the length of the marriage, but a judge has discretion to set a different limit if circumstances dictate

The decision to award alimony is based on a consideration of income, need, the length of the marriage, and special considerations.

Child Support

Courts exercise considerably less discretion when it comes to determining child support arrangements, although the courts do have more flexibility than many people realize. For instance, although child support obligations generally discontinue when a child reaches the age of 18, they may be extended to age 21 for a child living at home and up to age 23 for a child dependent on a parent due to enrollment in college.

Unlike alimony, the amount of child support has nothing to do with the length of time the parents were together; in fact, child support is frequently ordered in situations where parents never married or lived together. Instead, the amount is based primarily on the parents’ income and the amount of time the child spends with each parent. Other important factors include costs for healthcare, childcare, and other support obligations. The formulas for calculating child support assume that a child lives primarily with one parent and spends about 1/3 of the time with the other parent.

A Family Law Attorney Can Help Establish and Modify Alimony and Child Support to Meet Your Family’s Needs

Although alimony and child support are separate types of support considered separately by the courts, they do recognize that payments of both types affect family dynamics. If you are struggling to establish the right arrangement for alimony or child support or want to seek a modification of an existing order, talk to an experienced family law attorney at Koiles Pratt Family Law Group. We work hard to ensure that support payments for our clients are equitable and fair based on a full consideration of all relevant circumstances. 

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