Marriage entails sacrifices on the part of both spouses, and this may lead to one of them giving up a professional career and economic independence to care for their children. Divorce leaves both affected spousal parties in a state of uneven economic status. To balance this out, one ex-spouse may be asked to pay a certain amount of alimony to the other.
The decision of a fixed sum to be paid as alimony is determined by the court, and can vary in amount based on a number of factors. The age, physical condition, emotional state and finances of both spouses are taken into account. The length of time needed for the spouse to complete an educational degree and get a job is also a factor.
Other points that are considered include the standard of living during the marriage for the couple, length of time during which the ex-spouses were together and the ability of a spouse to support the other and still have money for his or her own needs. If a spouse proves unwilling to pay the alimony, he or she can be brought before the court and held in contempt. This can result in the ex-spouse getting jailed or imposed with a heavy fine. The period during which alimony must be paid depends on how soon the spouse receiving alimony can become self-sufficient.
Even after the alimony payer dies, the ex-spouse can still receive alimony in the form of proceeds from the sale of the deceased's property. In the past, having to pay alimony was seen as a duty of the ex-husband towards the ex-wife. With an increasing number of female professionals, however, today women are just as likely to have to pay alimony as men.