A handful of states have enacted formulas for determining alimony awards. In many states, the amount awarded to former spouses following a divorce is completely at the discretion of the presiding judge. Even though these decisions are based on factors like the financial statuses of the spouses, the length of the marriage and the health of each spouse, data shows that average alimony awards tend to be very inconsistent.

Maryland, however, has taken steps to resolve this issue, effectively reducing the chance of overly small or large alimony rulings. While Maryland law stipulates that judges should set alimony awards independently, the state’s Supreme Court ruled that it is acceptable for these judges to consult a formula on which to base their decisions. Even though judges can still set alimony awards at whatever amount they see fit, the ruling sets an informal standard for alimony awards that can be referenced by divorcing couples and their attorneys.

Other states have enacted strictly numerical guidelines for temporary alimony, hoping that such measures will make it easier for couples to afford divorce and avoid lengthy litigation. These guidelines typically determine appropriate payments based on each spouse’s income and how those figures relate to their combined income. Using the formula, these figures are used to determine alimony payments up until the divorce is finalized.

It is not uncommon for divorcing spouses to disagree on the terms of their marriage dissolution. Alimony payments can be particularly contentious. One spouse may be worried about getting enough money to live, and the other may not want a large portion of the paycheck going to an ex. Since Maryland judges are now allowed to consult alimony formulas, hopefully spousal support decisions will be less varied and increasingly fair.

Source: New York Times, “Ending the Alimony Guessing Game,” Alexandra Harwin, 3 July 2011