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Alimony - the basics

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed September 2021

What is alimony?

“Alimony” is money a judge orders one spouse to pay the other when a couple gets divorced. The money is to support the spouse who gets it.

Who filed for divorce does not matter. The judge can order alimony for either spouse.

A judge can only order alimony if a spouse has the ability to pay it.

A judge can only order alimony if the other spouse needs support.

The spouse who pays alimony is the “payor” spouse.

The spouse who receives alimony is the “recipient” spouse.

The judge can order the spouse to pay alimony all at once or periodically, like weekly or monthly.

If you were married 20 years or less, the judge must decide how long alimony must be paid.

If you were married more than 20 years, alimony can be for an indefinite length of time. 

The length of time depends on the kind of alimony the judge orders.


Alimony is complicated. Get a lawyer if you need alimony.

How are alimony and child support different?

Alimony is not child support.

Child support is money one parent pays the other when parents do not live together. The money is to help pay for your children's needs.  Massachusetts laws say both parents must support their children. The Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines say how much child support a parent must pay and for how long. The parents do not have to be married to each other.

A judge can only order alimony when a couple gets divorced. Alimony is to support one spouse. Massachusetts laws say how much alimony a spouse must pay and for how long.

What are the different kinds of alimony?

There are 4 kinds of alimony:

  1. “General term” alimony is for a spouse who is economically dependent.
  2. “Rehabilitative” alimony is to support a spouse until they can support themselves financially.
  3.  “Reimbursement” alimony is to pay a spouse back for contributing to the financial well-being of the payor spouse.
  4.  “Transitional” alimony is to help a spouse adjust to a lifestyle that divorce has changed.

Each kind of alimony has different rules about:

  • the “length of the marriage” it applies to,
  • how long the alimony can last,
  • how to calculate the amount of alimony,
  • if the alimony order can be changed, and
  • what can end the alimony.

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