A question we get quite frequently is: how are alimony and child support different? It can certainly be confusing because they’re both payments made (usually) directly to an ex-spouse. The main difference is that alimony is paid to support the ex-spouse, while child support is paid to support the child. Even though the payment for the child may be paid directly to the ex-spouse, the purpose of the payment is to financially support the child. Let’s dive into the similarities and differences between alimony and child support.
Alimony, also called spousal support or maintenance, depending on your state, is a legal obligation for one ex-spouse to financially support the other ex-spouse after the marriage comes to an end. Generally, the purpose of alimony is to ensure that both spouses maintain a similar standard of living after the separation and also ensure that one spouse is not left destitute.
Laws around alimony are dictated by state laws. Alimony awarded in New York might look much different than the alimony for the same case had it been in California.
With that said, alimony is typically awarded to the spouse who earns less income or has fewer financial resources. The amount and duration of alimony payments are usually determined by the court based on several factors, including the marriage length, each person’s earning capacity, the age and health of each spouse, and the standard of living during the marriage.
In some cases, alimony may be awarded on a temporary basis for a specific period of time to allow the receiving spouse to become financially self-sufficient. In other cases, alimony may be awarded on a permanent basis, particularly in long-term marriages where one spouse has been economically dependent on the other for a significant period of time.
A quick note on taxes: for those couples that finalized their divorce after January 1, 2019, the IRS no longer treats alimony as income, and the paying spouse is not allowed to treat it as a tax deduction. This can be a big deal for the paying spouse because they can no longer deduct the alimony payment. Let’s say you’re paying $50,000 per year in alimony, this alimony tax deduction used to reduce your taxable income, but now that same $50,000 is not deductible to reduce your income.
Understanding Child Support
Child support is a court-ordered financial obligation that a non-custodial parent must pay to the parent with primary custody for the financial support of their child. The main purpose of child support is to make sure that both parents share the responsibility of financially supporting their child after the marriage ends.
The laws on child support are dictated by each state’s legislature. How child support is awarded in Illinois may not be the same as it is in Florida.
With that being said, the amount of child support is typically determined by the court and is based on several factors, including both parents’ income, the number of children, the cost of childcare, and the child’s specific needs. The court might also take into consideration factors such as medical expenses, educational expenses, and extracurricular activities when determining how much child support should be paid.
Child support payments are typically made on a regular basis, such as weekly or monthly, and may continue until the child reaches the age of majority, graduates from high school, or completes college.
Differences between Alimony and Child Support
The primary difference is that alimony is paid from one ex-spouse to another for the support of the other ex-spouse, while child support is paid from one parent to another for the support of their child. Alimony is usually awarded to a lower-earning or financially dependent spouse, while child support is intended to ensure that both parents share the financial responsibility of raising their child.
Another key difference is that alimony is typically awarded for a limited period of time or until specific conditions are met, such as the recipient becoming self-sufficient, while child support payments usually continue until the child reaches a certain age, like 18 or when they graduate from college.
The factors that are used to determine how much alimony and child support are to be paid also differ. Again, this is a state thing, and the state decides what factors to consider. However, most states will determine alimony based on the marriage length, each person’s earning capacity, and standard of living during the marriage. On the other hand, the factors used to consider child support may be the needs of the child and the income of the parents.
Similarities between Alimony and Child Support
Although child support and alimony are different legal obligations, there are some similarities.
Both child support and alimony are financial obligations that are established in the context of a separation. These payments are intended to support another person (whether it’s a child or an ex-spouse).
Another similarity is that alimony and child support are both court-ordered and can be enforced by legal means if one person fails to make payments. This means that the paying party may face the consequences such as wage garnishment or even imprisonment if they do not fulfill their obligation.
Also, most states will allow for an adjustment on the amount of both child support and alimony payments based on the circumstances. For example, if the paying spouse experiences a significant change in income, the court may modify the payment amount for either alimony or child support.
Finally, both child support and alimony payments are subject to state-specific laws that govern their calculation, duration, and termination. These laws generally aim to ensure that both parties are treated fairly and that the best interests of any children involved are always prioritized.
Alimony and Child Support in a Prenuptial Agreement
In short: you can put alimony clauses in a prenup, and you cannot put child support clauses in a prenup. There are exceptions, but this is the general rule across the nation.
How is alimony addressed in a prenup? Well, sometimes there are state laws regarding this issue that place limitations on what you can and cannot do. For example, in California, if you waive alimony, you must have legal representation. But, in general, you may waive alimony, keep alimony in with caps on the amount, or leave it up to the courts to decide.
Again, child support is typically not addressed in a prenup. There are some narrow exceptions to this rule, such as in New York. If your child has already been born, you and your future spouse can agree on child custody arrangements and calculate child support in your NY prenuptial agreement.
However, you cannot make child custody and support arrangements for a child who has not yet been born. It is important to keep in mind that judges have full discretion in determining child custody and support, with the primary objective being the child’s best interest above everything else. (In other words: your child support clause can still be thrown out).
“Clients sometimes come to me and ask if a prenup can include a term about agreeing to a certain amount of child support to be paid in the event of divorce- it’s important to remember that all states have a minimum amount of child support that is required to be paid to the custodial parent.” –Nicole DiGiacomo, New York Family Law Attorney.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Alimony and Child Support
You probably still have questions, understandably so. We’ve rounded up a few commonly asked questions regarding alimony and child support below.
Q: Can I put child support obligations in my prenup?
A: Usually, no. Nearly all states do not allow you to put child support obligations in your prenup. In the states that do allow it (like New York), there is a very narrow window to be able to include child support in your prenup.
Q: Can I receive both alimony and child support?
A: Yes, a court may order both alimony and child support in your case, depending on the laws and the circumstances of your situation.
Q: Can I prevent paying child support and/or alimony at all?
A: You may be able to include a provision in your prenup that eliminates the possibility of paying alimony. However, generally, there is no way to prevent paying child support–if you have children, you are generally going to be responsible for providing for them financially.
The Bottom Line
In conclusion, alimony and child support may seem similar, but they are actually two different types of financial obligations that may occur in a divorce. The main difference is that alimony is paid for the support of an ex-spouse, while child support is paid for the support of a child. There’s really no way to “avoid” child support, but you may be able to include provisions in your prenup regarding alimony.
Nicole DiGiacomo is the Managing Attorney at the Law Office of Nicole DiGiacomo, PLLC located in the New York Metro Area. Her practice is dedicated solely to matrimonial and family law- including prenuptial agreements. Nicole has represented women, men, and children alike in all types of domestic relations cases since 2017. She seeks to bring compassion, understanding, and affordability to the practice of law.