A Brief Guide to Alimony in Rhode Island

If you are going through divorce, you may have many questions regarding the many aspects of alimony in the state of Rhode Island. The information below on the definition of alimony, the types of alimony in this particular state, and the factors that play into calculating and awarding it will provide insight into navigating this particular aspect of the divorce process, which can be very difficult. 

What Is Alimony?

These term refers to payments that one spouse makes to another after a divorce or separation has taken place. In order to qualify for alimony, the requesting spouse has to be completely unable to support himself or herself, and must depend on the other for financial assistance for a certain period of time. 

In the state of Rhode Island, alimony is also referred to as “spousal support” and “maintenance.” For the purposes of this article, we will use these terms interchangeably. 

A court may order alimony payments, or spouses may agree that it should be paid. Some divorcing couples may even use a mediator to help them reach a mutual agreement about spousal support and other related issues, which will prevent the need to go to family court.

In Rhode Island, alimony is intended to provide a means of support until a receiving spouse becomes self-sustaining. At this point, the spouse will no longer need this support. 

Types of Alimony in Rhode Island

In the state of Rhode Island, there are two types of alimony: 

  • The most common type is temporary alimony, which is designed to help a spouse obtain vocational or educational training and achieve self-sustenance and gainful employment. 
  • A considerably rarer type is permanent alimony, which is paid on an ongoing or indefinite basis. This type lasts until either spouse has died, or the receiving spouse gets remarried. 

For instance, permanent alimony may be awarded to a spouse who has been married for 25 years and out of the workforce for 24 of those years. This spouse probably will not be able to reenter the working world. 

Alimony is not something that can simply be awarded at will. There are several factors that play into whether it will be part of your divorce. Be sure to check out the section below  titled “Talking About Factors Affecting Alimony” for more information about this subject matter.  

Notably, all alimony terminates when the receiving spouse remarries. Furthermore, Rhode Island courts reserve the right to alter or terminate spousal support if the financial circumstances of a spouse  significantly change. 

Is There a Formula for Alimony?

No, there are no mathematical formulas for calculating  alimony in Rhode Island. The amount you pay or receive depends on your personal case. To get the most accurate information about what to expect, you can ask your legal team about it. Every case is handled differently. When figuring out how alimony will be awarded, the court examines several factors. However, here are some factors  to consider when you are examining your situation:

  • What was the duration of your marriage? This component makes a huge difference in figuring out alimony. If the marriage lasted less than ten years, the justice presiding over it may be reluctant to award alimony unless circumstances dictate otherwise. 
  • What caused your divorce? While Rhode Island is a no-fault divorce state, fault is strongly considered when it comes to spousal support. If the spouse asking for support caused the failure of the marriage due to  being unfaithful, the judge may order that no alimony should be awarded. 
  • What did you contribute? Did you enter the marriage with plenty of assets, such as property or stocks? Did you sign a prenup? Did your partner stay home to care for your child with special needs? Did you support your spouse while he or she attended college? ? The courts will examine all of these factors when making a decision about maintenance. 

Some questions about income will also be examined:

  • How much does the receiving spouse need? The amount of support that is awarded is dependent on the amount this spouse needs to reasonably live. Today, awards are designed to make sure they do not place an unreasonable financial burden on the payor spouse. 
  • If you are the payor spouse, how much can you afford? What outstanding debts do you have? What career could your spouse potentially obtain? What other significant financial factors are present in your life? As you navigate the alimony process, all of these factors will be considered.

Factors That Affect Alimony

When the time comes to decide whether alimony should be ordered in Rhode Island, a family court justice will consider a few different matters. First and foremost, he or she will consider whether the requesting spouse requires this support, and if the payor spouse can afford to make payments and support himself or herself. 

Several other factors will also be considered:

  • How long the marriage lasted
  • How the spouses conducted themselves during the marriage
  • What is the employment status, skill set, health, and age of each spouse?
  • Whether one spouse has custody of a minor child. If so, would it prevent him or her from being able to earn an income while taking care of the child? 
  • If one spouse was a stay-at-home parent or homemaker during the marriage, will he or she need education or job training to be able to be self-sufficient? If so, how long would this process take, and what would it cost? 
  • What was the standard of living during the marriage?
  • Can the payor spouse afford payments, given his or her own earning capacity, debts, properties, and lifestyle?

Can Alimony Be Changed?

The laws of Rhode Island provide a family court with the opportunity to alter an alimony order after the finalization of the divorce (if circumstances warrant it). 

A court may change the maintenance terms that are written in the divorce decree, then  backdate them to the date the major change occurred. This protocol may help lower (or even eliminate) any arrears or back payments that a spouse has been unable to make. 

Significant changes can include the  loss of employment, severe health problems, or other circumstances that would have a serious impact on the spouse’s ability to pay his or her court-ordered alimony payments. 

How Long Does Alimony Last?

In Rhode Island, there are no set parameters for the length of spousal support. Remember, the purpose of  spousal support is to help a spouse become self-sufficient. 

When setting an appropriate end date for the alimony payments, the justice overseeing your case will consider the factors we discussed earlier. In rare circumstances, the justice may order spousal support to be paid on an ongoing, long-term basis. 

Either one of the spouses may petition the family court to alter or terminate maintenance payments. However, in order to justify the modification of a spousal support payment, the court must find that there has been a significant change in the circumstances of either one of the parties. For instance, alimony payments will automatically terminate if the receiving spouse gets remarried. 

What If I Do Not Pay Alimony?

If you do not pay alimony, the monies you owe become known as alimony arrears. These payments may be collected in a variety of ways. For example, you might go to small claims court, or your wages might be garnished. And if you fail to comply with a court-issued maintenance order, you may be charged with contempt of court. 

Does Adultery Affect Alimony?

Yes, marital fault will be considered if alimony is part of your divorce. In some states, adultery does NOT have an impact, but Rhode Island is different. Therefore, adultery can play a role in whether either spouse is eligible for spousal support, and what each of them receives during the property-division phase. Rhode Island may also consider other acts of marital misconduct when deciding whether to award alimony. However, the spouse who wants the divorce must prove that the misconduct of his or her ex is the reason for this split.

Rhode Island does not take adultery lightly. In fact, it is still technically a crime in this state.  Therefore, a spouse could theoretically be fined $500 for committing adultery, but this “crime” is rarely prosecuted. 

If an extramarital affair was the reason for a divorce,  the person who had the affair will probably not get any spousal support. However, every case is different, and you should always speak with your lawyer to get the most relevant information about the outcome of your case. 

If a spouse spent money on the extramarital affair (such as buying food, goods, hotel rooms or vacations for his or her paramour), the court will take those expenses into consideration when dividing up the property. 

Notably, Rhode Island courts do not consider adultery when making decisions about child custody and visitation rights,  unless the affair had a negative effect on that spouse’s ability to be an effective parent.r 

Alimony and Taxes

Due to the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the treatment of alimony tax is now being treated differently. Under the old rules, a person who paid support could deduct the monies equal to the payments made during that year (which is known as an “above the line” tax deduction). Under this law, alimony payments are taxable to the spouse receiving them. 

However, the new law states that the payor cannot make a deduction for spousal support payments. In addition, alimony is no longer considered to be gross income for  the receiver spouse. 

Therefore, the payor spouse can no longer deduct his or her  payments. Furthermore, the receiving spouse cannot include them in their income, and he or she will not have to pay taxes on them. 


This brief guide should help you navigate your way through divorce in Rhode Island. For the best information about your case and its outcome, be sure to speak with your legal team. 

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