Temporary alimony is the periodic payment of money by one spouse to another to provide for his or her living expenses during the pendency of an action for dissolution of marriage. Temporary alimony is awarded to maintain a spouse in the manner and style of life established during the marriage.
Temporary alimony is different than rehabilitative alimony which is a payment to a former spouse for support and education after a final judgment. The purpose of rehabilitative alimony is to assist the former spouse in acquiring or in reacquiring wage-earning skills that were lost during the years of marriage when he or she did not work.
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There are no specific guidelines for temporary alimony and the court generally has wide discretion in making an appropriate award. Temporary alimony is based on the traditional standards of one spouse’s need, the other spouse’s ability to pay, and the standard of living during the marriage. A supported spouse (or child) is entitled to a continuation of the style and standard of living during the divorce proceeding as was enjoyed during the marriage.
For purposes of temporary alimony (and child support), a person’s needs are not limited to food, shelter, and clothing. Rather, a person’s needs include those nonessentials and luxuries that he or she enjoyed during the marriage. Each family has their own standard of living, and although one family’s standard of living may seem extravagant to others, it will still be the basis for determining the amount of temporary support.
In determining a spouse’s need for support, a court will analyze the ability of the spouse who is seeking the award to provide for his or her own support. A court may consider whether the spouse worked before or during the marriage, as well as his or her present wage-earning capacity. Even if a spouse did not work during the marriage, a court will still consider whether the spouse should work while the action is pending.
A court must also consider whether a spouse who is asking for temporary alimony has liquid assets with which to support himself or herself during the pendency of an action. A liquid asset includes money in checking or savings accounts, money orders, and un-cashed checks. Temporary alimony will be denied to a spouse who has sufficient liquid assets with which to support himself or herself. If a spouse is forced to use liquid assets for support during litigation, a court may add the cost of that support to the final award. A spouse should not have to liquidate assets to support himself or herself during the pendency of the dissolution proceeding.
A court has the discretion to award temporary attorneys’ fees, suit money, and costs in an action for divorce, as well. The purpose of an award of temporary attorneys’ fees is to ensure that even if one party is in a superior financial position, both parties have similar access to attorneys and can participate on an equal footing (i.e., ‘a level playing field’.)
A hearing for temporary alimony or other relief is heard either by the court, or by a master, if both parties consent. Since applications for temporary support are often emergency or high priority matters, a party may wish to move for referral to a master if the court docket is crowded and it would take a long time to get a hearing before the court.
A temporary award of alimony ends when the divorce case is over; the temporary award is replaced by any similar award entered by the Court.