Alimony, Child Support, and What they Mean for Divorcing Parties

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From time to time individuals will decide they need to divorce. Although it’s never a happy occasion, knowing as much as possible about the laws governing divorce can make a difficult process as easy as possible. Once question most divorce clients have when they first meet with me is how much they will have to pay or receive in spousal support and/or child support.

Although both child support and spousal support are payments provided for by Nevada law and which generally occur on a monthly basis, that’s really where the similarity ends. The legal requirements, duration, and calculation of the two are very different and each has different consequences in divorce. Understanding these differences can give you a head start in resolving a divorce and hopefully reaching an amicable resolution.

Child support is the easier of the two payments to negotiate and calculate. If divorcing parties have children, statute dictates that the parent having custody of the children 60% or more of the calendar receive a monthly payment from the other parent. The paying parent is required to pay a certain percentage of his or her income to the custodial parent; the amount of the payment is based on the number of children the parties have.

Although the formula is not set in stone, courts will follow it unless there is a very good reason not to and a deviation is permitted by law. In other words, once the parent with primary custody is determined, figured out child support is not particularly difficult. If a person misses a child support payment there are serious consequences, including garnishment of wages and even jail. Additionally, most states will undertake the enforcement of past-due child support on behalf of recipient spouses.

Spousal support (or alimony as it is sometimes called) is much more difficult to figure out, mainly because judges have so much discretion. There are some legal guidelines, like the length of the marriage, the earning capacity of the spouses, the needs of the spouses, the necessity of the receiving spouse to receive educational training, etc. etc. Even with those guidelines, however, judges have the final say in spousal support and their reasoning is rarely overturned.

That having been said, a few guideposts can help parties get a general idea of whether spousal support will be ordered. If the marriage is of long duration and one of the spouses primarily stayed home to raise children and perform other homemaking tasks, spousal support is likely to be ordered. On the other hand, where a marriage is of short duration and both spouses worked outside the home, spousal support will likely not be ordered.

Unlike child support, most states treat past due spousal support more like a civil judgment except that, if a judge finds that an ex-spouse is willfully refusing to pay spousal support, a contempt of court (which means fines and even jail) may be issued.

If you are in the difficult position of trying to figure out the terms of a divorce, a competent family law attorney is essential to determining your rights and obligations. Even if you think you are going to work out a compromise, discussing your situation with an attorney can be an important tool ensuring your rights are protected.

Clifford Gravett is a local attorney with the Virgin Valley law firm of Bingham Snow & Caldwell located in Mesquite. The firm serves clients in Nevada, Arizona, and Utah (702-346-7300 / Is there a topic you’d like to see discussed in a future article? E-mail him at

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