Alimony laws in the District of Columbia


Area of Law: 

In the event of a divorce, if either spouse does not have a separate estate, or if a spouse's assets are not sufficient to offer a means of support, a judge might order alimony, which is also known as spousal support. Alimony is usually a monthly financial allowance paid by one spouse to another. The purpose of alimony is to offset any unfair economic effects of a divorce by providing a continuing income to the non-wage earning or lower-wage earning spouse.


To be eligible for alimony, spouses in all states must have been legally married. Alimony is usually based on a settlement agreement made between the spouses or the discretion of a judge. In most states, as well as the District of Columbia, alimony awards lack the enforcement power that child support orders have, which sometimes garnish wages and put a lien on the payer’s property. Spouses who are due alimony but are not receiving it have the option of returning to court to force payment through a contempt action.


There are four types of alimony: lump-sum, rehabilitative, temporary, and permanent. Lump sum alimony is calculated by the court and is usually made in one payment. Temporary alimony may be paid for a specific amount of time, usually one or two years, to help one partner become financially independent and “get back on their feet.” Rehabilitative is the most commonly awarded alimony and may include payments for the education necessary for the recipient spouse to become self-sufficient. Permanent alimony is paid regularly for an indefinite period of time or until the payee petitions the court to modify or discontinue the payments.


A court in the District of Columbia may order either spouse to pay alimony on either a rehabilitative or a permanent basis. According to District of Columbia law, the factors a court considers when awarding alimony include the following:


  • The ability of the party seeking alimony to be wholly or partly self-supporting
  • The time necessary for the party seeking alimony to gain sufficient education or training to enable that party to secure suitable employment
  • The standard of living that the parties established during their marriage or domestic partnership, but giving consideration to the fact that there will be 2 households to maintain
  • The duration of the marriage or domestic partnership
  • The circumstances which contributed to the estrangement of the parties
  • The age of each party
  • The physical and mental condition of each party
  • The ability of the party from whom alimony is sought to meet his or her needs while meeting the needs of the other party
  • The financial needs and financial resources of each party, including income, income from assets,  potential income which may be imputed to non-income producing assets of a party, any previous award of child support in this case, the financial obligations of each party, the right of a party to receive retirement benefits, and the taxability or non-taxability of income


In the District of Columbia, rehabilitative alimony is temporary and permanent alimony can be indefinite, although it ends when either spouse dies. A court may modify alimony if there is a change of circumstances. If alimony is not requested at the time of the divorce, it can be requested later. Marital misconduct is a factor that DC courts look at when considering awarding alimony.