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Following a divorce there are several reasons why one spouse may be obligated to pay continuous monthly payments to their ex, even after the divorce is finalized. Two reasons for this are alimony and child support. While both are important, it’s important to understand the difference between alimony and child support, and how those differences affect how each payment is utilized. 

What is Child Support

When a couple with children divorces one of the most important things they need to work out is how that couple will continue to care for that child. Typically, the parent the child does not live with to pay child support to the custodial parent. Child support is monthly payment installations that are paid for the benefit of the child(ren).

Child support is non-taxable income for the parent receiving the support, and is not tax-deductible for the parent paying it. This money is meant to be used to help with the cost of food, clothing, education, housing, medical and dental care, and other expenses that affect that child’s quality of life. 

How Child Support is Calculated 

Every divorce case and family is different, so the exact amount a spouse will pay varies. When it comes to calculating child support, the process is often more complicated than simply agreeing to a 50-50 split. Typically, child support payments are determined by both state law and the signed custody agreement. Income, investments, and other income streams are taken into consideration when calculating child support payments. 

Typically, child support is paid until a child turns 18 or graduates high school, whichever comes later. However, there are cases in which parents may be asked to pay additional financial support beyond high school years. The reason for these continued payments include continuing education (college or university) or a cognitive disability that requires the child to remain a dependent. 

Though not 100% accurate, the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services provides this quick child support calculator to help you get an idea of what you may be asked to pay (or what you may be paid).

What is Alimony?

Alimony, also known as spousal support, is paid from one spouse to another, typically to provide a way for a lower-earning spouse to maintain the lifestyle they had lived during the marriage. Oftentimes, the spouse being paid alimony may be just re-entering the job market or unable to work. 

How Alimony is Calculated

Usually, alimony functions on a 1:3 ratio. Under this, the spouse being paid is paid 1 year of alimony per every three years of marriage. 

Every alimony agreement is different and will fall into one of three categories: temporary, short-term, or permanent. 

Health, age, liability, employability, and socio-ecnomic status all factor into how alimony is calculated. While alimony is not child support, parental status may factor into how much alimony is paid as well, especially if the custodial spouse is unable to work or provide for the needs of themselves and the child(ren). 

The Difference Between Alimony and Child Support

The difference between alimony and child support is the intended use of each payment. Child support is granted and paid specifically for the benefit of the child. Alimony is spousal support meant to allow spouses to maintain their current standard of living.


Talk to an Attorney


Whether you’re trying to navigate the waters of alimony or child support, it helps to have a knowledgeable person you can trust. Contact a divorce and family law attorney at The Narrows Law Group today.

Related Reading:

What is Post-Secondary Support and When is it Awarded

How Child Support is Calculated in Washington State

How Alimony is Settled