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alimony, in law, allowance for support that an individual pays to his or her former spouse, usually as part of a divorce settlement. It is based on the common law right of a wife to be supported by her husband, but in the United States, the Supreme Court in 1979 removed its limitation to husbands, to account for cases in which the wife is wealthier. Alimony is distinct from child support, which is the duty of both mother and father to contribute, based on ability to pay, to the support of minor children. Temporary alimony is allowed pending the outcome of a suit for divorce or separation, or for a decree of nullity of marriage, whether initiated by husband or wife; permanent alimony may be granted after a divorce has taken effect. In contemporary law, alimony is generally awarded only in cases where one spouse is unable to support himself or herself. Such cases are not common: recent figures show that some 90% of U.S. divorces are free of alimony requirements. Alimony ceases on the death of the individual liable; it is not payable out of his or her estate. Remarriage of the individual collecting alimony does not necessarily terminate payments, but the amount may be reduced or the court may cut them off if the recipient's new spouse can support him or her adequately. In all cases the need for and amount of alimony are questions that can be reopened at any time in a court having jurisdiction over the parties. A decree awarding alimony is a court order issued personally, and enforced by contempt of court sanctions. Today, alimony is often called “maintenance.” In cases of extended cohabitation, so-called palimony sometimes may be awarded.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



money that some members of the family must pay, in situations specified by law, to other members of the family who are in need of it. Soviet law determines the persons who have the right to alimony, the persons who are obligated to pay it, its amount, and the date it must be paid. Thus, minors and, in some cases, disabled adult members of a family are entitled to alimony. Minors must be supported in the first place by the parents (or adoptive parents). If the parents are dead or lack sufficient means, the law provides that other members of the family must support the children—the child’s grandparents, his adult brothers or sisters, or the stepparents. Disabled and needy adults must be supported in the first place by their spouses, if they have sufficient means, or by their adult children or parents; if these persons are unavailable, this duty is imposed on other members of the family—grandchildren, stepchildren, and so forth.

The amounts established by law for child support are one-fourth of the parents’ total earnings (income) for the support of one child, one-third for two children, and one-half for three or more children. Courts may reduce these amounts if the collection of such alimony deprives other minor children of the same parent of equal material benefits, if the parent required to pay the alimony is an invalid of the first or second group, or if the children work and earn a sufficient salary. Courts may also reduce the amount of alimony or relieve parents from paying it if the children are wards of the state or a public organization. The monthly amount of alimony for the support of minor children, collected from other persons, as well as alimony for the support of disabled adults, regardless of who has to pay, is determined by the court based on the financial position of the person required to pay the alimony and on the need of the person who has the right to the alimony. Alimony for the support of children is paid until they reach majority, that is, 18 years of age. Adults receiving alimony for support lose their right to it if the circumstances that originally necessitated it no longer exist. For instance, alimony for the support of children paid by persons other than the parents is suspended if the parents become able to support their children; the alimony to an adult is suspended if it is established that he is able to work; and so forth.

If a person refuses to pay alimony voluntarily, it is collected through the court. Plaintiffs in alimony suits are granted several procedural privileges; they are relieved of paying state taxes, they can file the suit at court, according to the defendant’s or plaintiffs place of residence, and given other privileges. The court’s decision on collecting alimony is subject to immediate execution, even before it legally enters into force.

Legislation of socialist countries establishes an order of priorities in charging members of a family with paying alimony (for instance, in Bulgaria) or provides that relatives in descending line (progeny) have priority in the right to alimony over relatives in ascending line (ancestors), and that relatives in ascending line have priority over brothers and sisters (for example, in Poland).

In most bourgeois states (Britain, France, and others), legislation provides for the right to alimony for the support of legitimate children if the parents are divorced or separated. Parents also have the right to collect alimony. The amount of alimony is not regulated by legislation, but is determined by the courts.


“Osnovy zakonodatel’stva Soiuza SSR i soiuznykh respublik o brake i sem’e.” Vedomosti Verkhovnogo Soveta SSSR, 1968, no. 27, art. 241.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Law (formerly) an allowance paid under a court order by one spouse to another when they are separated but not divorced
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005