Maintenance, formerly known as alimony, is financial support provided by one (ex-) spouse to the other. Spousal maintenance is normally deductible by the paying spouse and taxable to the recipient spouse if certain criteria are met. Either spouse may seek maintenance. It may be initially granted on a temporary basis during the pendency of a divorce and for a determined or indeterminate period of time following the divorce or until the dependent spouse no longer requires it or remarries, which is first to occur.
In 1977, reflecting the social changes of the women's movement, no-fault divorce initially did away with the practice of permanent alimony. Replacing it was rehabilitative maintenance, based on the premise that any spouse who is given help for a time toward training themself can be independent and self-supporting.
In 1993, a revision of the 1977 legislation re-empowered the court to award permanent maintenance if it was deemed reasonable after the court evaluated various factors.
Factors that a court evaluates in setting spousal maintenance include the income and property of each party, including marital property apportioned and non-marital property assigned to the parties; the needs of each party; the present and future earning capacity of each party; any impairment of the present and future earning capacity of the party seeking maintenance due to that party devoting time to domestic duties or having forgone or delayed education, training and employment or career opportunities due to the marriage; the time necessary to enable the party seeking maintenance to acquire appropriate education, training and employment, the standard of living established during the marriage; the duration of the marriage, the age and the physical and emotional condition of both parties; the tax consequences of the property division upon the parties' respective economic circumstances; and contributions and services by the party seeking maintenance to the education, training, career or career potential, or license of the other spouse.
Maintenance may be either temporary or permanent. If a party agrees to give up a claim for maintenance, it may not be renewed at a later date unless the right to do so has been reserved in the Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage.
Maintenance can only be modified (increased, decreased or abated) by a court, and past due payments of maintenance are not dischargeable in bankruptcy.
Today, if a woman has been a full-time homemaker in a long-term marriage, she may be awarded maintenance for an extended period of time if she can prove "helplessness." Such helplessness may be proven by either a woman or man if they have never worked outside of the home, have no marketable skills or is physically or mentally disabled and/or is elderly. They may also be entitled to permanent maintenance if their job does not enable them to maintain the same lifestyle they had when they were married.
It is not uncommon for the primary wage earner to withhold financial contribution to the financially dependent spouse during the pendency of a divorce. Typically, a skilled attorney will petition the court early-on for a temporary order which obligates the primary wage earner to make regular payments to the dependent spouse until the case's resolution by settlement or trial.