The Difference Between Alimony and Child Support

The Difference Between Alimony and Child Support

Many people have heard the statistic that 50% of marriages end in divorce. Although the actual divorce rate is a bit lower at around 39%, the fact remains that many marriages don’t end with a happily ever after.

If a divorce finds its way into your life, you’ll quickly find that financial issues can start to take a toll, especially if you have children. To combat them, you might want to consider support via alimony or child support. 

But what is the difference between the two? Keep reading to learn all about the difference between alimony and child support. 

What Is Alimony?

Alimony, or spousal support, is a form of monetary support that one spouse provides to another after a divorce. Depending on the context, a judge may require alimony payments until the spouse remarries or a certain amount of time passes.

The purpose of alimony is to ensure that both spouses are able to live and maintain the lifestyle they had while married. 

Keep in mind that alimony is not automatic. The spouse that needs it needs to request alimony payments. 

How Do You Determine Alimony Payment Sizes?

As every marriage is different, alimony payments can also vary greatly from one another.

To determine how much one spouse needs to pay, they’ll look at some different factors. These include:

  • How long the marriage lasted
  • The ages of both parties
  • How the divorce process divided up the assets
  • The employment and income of each party
  • The living expenses of each party

If any of these factors change after divorce, the judge can modify the alimony. For example, if the spouse receiving the payments suddenly faces a higher cost of living, they can request to receive additional money.

Alimony and Taxes

On December 31st, 2017, President Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act which took effect a year later. This act made alimony payments a non-taxable form of income. It also made it so that spouses that pay for alimony don’t get tax breaks.

However, if you got divorced before December 31st, 2018, then any alimony payments you make or receive are taxable. You can qualify for a tax break on alimony you pay, and you have to claim payments you receive as taxable income. 

IRS Alimony Guidelines 

The IRS has a list of alimony payment guidelines. If you want the support payments you make or receive to qualify as alimony, ensure that you’re clear on the following points. 

  • Payments need to be in the form of cash, money order, or check
  • Spouses can only make alimony payments in the event of separation or divorce
  • Spouses need to live in separate households during the payment period
  • If the spouse that receives alimony dies, the payments don’t need to continue 
  • Alimony payments are different than a property settlement or child support 
  • Spouses need to follow separate tax returns 

What Is Child Support?

Like alimony, child support is another common form of monetary support that can come out of divorce or separation. Although it’s also a form of financial aid that one spouse pays to the other, its purpose is entirely different. 

The purpose of child support is to ensure that any children of the spouses have their basic needs met. This includes everything from medical care and housing to food and clothing. 

How Do You Determine Child Support Payment Sizes?

As with many laws in the United States, the stipulations surrounding child support payments depend on the state you reside in. Depending on where you live, a court may mandate child support payments, or they may be something that you and your spouse need to agree on.

Some states may not view child support payments as a necessity if both spouses have similar levels of income. Some states determine the level of support needed based on how many children couples have. 

It’s also essential to know the age limit of child support in the state you live in. In many states, the limit is 18, but in other areas, child support may take the form of education assistance money. 

Child Support and Taxes

One of the biggest differences between child support and alimony is that until December of 2018, the IRS viewed alimony as taxable income. However, child support was and continues to be nontaxable

Child support exists to benefit the children that came out of a marriage, so you won’t have to worry about paying taxes for it. If you provide child support, this also means that the payments you make aren’t deductible. 

IRS Child Support Guidelines

You won’t have to worry about adhering to a stringent set of guidelines since child support is nontaxable. However, you do want to make sure that you understand the rules as to whether or not you can list children as dependents. 

In most cases, the spouse the child resides with the majority of the time is the one viewed as the custodial parent. They are the ones who can claim children as dependents. 

However, in certain cases, the non-custodial parent does have the right to claim children as dependents provided that their divorce or separation agreement allows it. 

Understand the Difference Between Alimony and Child Support

Although there are some similarities, the difference between alimony and child support is quite pronounced. One focuses on children, while the other on the spouse. Make sure to work with a qualified divorce attorney who can advise you on the best course of action. 

Do you now have a better understanding of child support vs alimony? If you do, make sure to check out some of our other posts for more legal-related guides and tips. 

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Christophe Rude

Christophe Rude

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