Types of Alimony: Temporary, Permanent & Reimbursement

Instructor: Kenneth Poortvliet

Kenneth has a JD, practiced law for over 10 years, and has taught criminal justice courses as a full-time instructor.

When married couples separate, typically one spouse is going to need financial support from the other. In this lesson, we will define three types of alimony: temporary, permanent, and reimbursement, and explain how each are used.

Tasha and Pete separated over a year ago, and Pete has been paying Tasha alimony based on their separation agreement. They recently finalized their divorce, and Pete wanted to stop paying alimony. They went to court and the judge ordered Tasha to pay Pete alimony. Tasha was shocked and furious. How can this be?


Alimony is the legal obligation to make support payments to a spouse or former spouse. There are three types of alimony that a court can award, and each is based on the couple's particular circumstances. The types of alimony are: temporary, permanent and reimbursement. To determine alimony payments, the court decides which party is the supported spouse (the spouse who is in need of support), and which party is the supporting spouse (the spouse whose financial contributions will support the other spouse). These designations are determined by the marital roles and earning capacity of each party both during the marriage and at the time of the hearing. The factors which are used to calculate alimony will vary from state to state.

Following are some of the most common factors considered by a court when awarding alimony:

  • Both parties' earnings during the marriage,
  • Their standard of living during the marriage,
  • Whether one spouse supported the other during his/her education,
  • The length of the marriage,
  • The ability to earn wages after the divorce based on age, career prospects and educational or training needs.

Marital misconduct, can be infidelity, physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, or just about anything that forced the non-abusing spouse to endure excess burdens during the marriage. In some states, marital misconduct plays a minimal role; however, in most states, misconduct by one party can be used to increase or lower an alimony award.

Temporary alimony can begin the moment a couple separates, and permanent alimony starts when the divorce is final.

Temporary & Permanent Alimony

Upon separation, either party can seek temporary alimony which is intended to address the immediate needs of the supported spouse following a separation. Temporary support ends when a permanent alimony order is entered. When the court grants the divorce, the court will hear evidence on the long-term financial needs of the supported spouse and may enter a permanent alimony award if it believes the permanent alimony is needed.

For example, what if Bob is a stay-at-home dad and Jude brought in the income? Upon separation, Bob, being the supported spouse, can seek temporary alimony and the court will look at the alimony factors, but with an eye on the immediate needs. Then when the final divorce is entered, Bob can ask the court to consider permanent alimony which will address his long-term needs as the supported spouse.

Though it's rare, at the permanent alimony hearing, the court can reconsider the supported spouse designations and either award no alimony or award the supporting spouse alimony after determining that he or she is now a supported spouse. For example, let's say while Bob had been a stay-at-home dad, Jude had paid for his night school tuition and shouldered more of the domestic load so he could get his degree. If, during the separation period, Bob becomes employed and is doing well, it's possible that the court could award Jude alimony or pay her back for some of her contributions to his success.

Reimbursement Alimony

Reimbursement alimony reimburses one spouse for the contributions made in furthering the other's education, career or business. It is typically used in situations where the supporting spouse's career or business hadn't blossomed until late in the marriage or during the separation period. Thus, reimbursement alimony looks at expectations of future growth based on the contributions of the other spouse. Once granted, this award can't be changed or ended, regardless of whether the expectations pan out. Many jurisdictions do not recognize reimbursement alimony but rely on addressing those concerns in the permanent alimony award when considering the usual factors.

For example, let's say Jude quit her job to start her own business. Bob took a part-time job to make ends meet while Jude got the business going. Bob also became the office assistant and worked hard on the business. Then they separated, and in awarding temporary alimony, Jude's business was doing about the same as when she was employed. But by the time of the permanent alimony hearing, the business grew and was expected to keep growing. In this situation, the court may make an award of reimbursement alimony to Bob.

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