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What is the history of alimony?

When a family law court orders one spouse to pay the other spouse financial support during separation or after divorce -- either permanently or temporarily -- it's considered alimony. In some instances, the paying spouse may question why alimony is necessary and wonder how the concept came to be.

In order to understand the history of alimony, we have to go back into legal history to the English ecclesiastical courts.

What was alimony like in the past?

Hundreds of years ago, it was illegal to end one's marriage. The only thing that couples could do was obtain a legal separation. As a part of the separation, the husband would have the legal duty to offer financial support to his wife. This concept of spousal support became a part of American divorce laws.

In the past, the courts primarily utilized alimony as a means compensation for a spouse who was wronged by the other spouse, usually as a result of adultery or for some other reason. Alimony was perceived as a way to right an injustice, and courts used it to punish the spouse who was at fault in the divorce. As such, wives needed to prove that their husbands were adulterous or were otherwise at fault for the dissolution of the marriage in order to receive compensation.

Modern alimony is different

These days, alimony is a little bit different. The rise of no-fault divorces made it is unnecessary for the receiving spouse to prove fault in most divorces. Although alimony continues to be used in some states as a form of sanctions against the at-fault spouse, proving fault is not usually required anymore. Courts determine whether or not to award alimony based on the economic need of the less-moneyed spouse.

Furthermore, since women can more readily support themselves in the modern world and often serve as the primary breadwinner for their families, wives may just as easily be the ones who must pay their ex-husbands spousal support after a divorce.

Is alimony a focus in your divorce?

Minnesota courts typically use alimony as a temporary financial bridge to assist the less-moneyed spouse to become financially independent. One of the goals is to prevent a spouse from being trapped in a difficult or abusive relationship as a result of financial concerns. However, it's also intended to assist less-moneyed spouses to become financially independent so they can maintain a similar quality of life after their marriages have ended.

If alimony is an issue in your divorce proceedings -- regardless if you will pay or receive the funds -- you may want to investigate how a Minnesota court will likely decide your case.

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