The difference between rehabilitative alimony and reimbursement alimony is the purpose for which the alimony was ordered by the judge. Rehabilitative alimony is meant to support a spouse who gave up opportunities to develop career skills during a marriage. Reimbursement alimony is meant to make up for a spouse’s one-sided contribution to a marriage, such as putting the other spouse through medical school.
Spousal support 101
The modern term for alimony is spousal support. Spousal support is a monthly payment made from one former spouse to the other former spouse. A spousal support order is usually a temporary award to provide income for a recently divorced individual.
Take the example of a man and woman who fall in love while both are attending law school. After graduation, both become lawyers and get good jobs. However, the wife becomes pregnant. After the baby is born, she quits work and stays at home with the baby. A few years later, another child comes along, and then another. The wife’s two- or three-year career as an attorney becomes a distant memory, as most of her adult life has been spent raising children.
In the meantime, her husband continues to work as a lawyer. He gains valuable experience through the years, adding to his skill and reputation. He and his wife have less and less in common as time passes. He finds himself attracted to female lawyers in the workplace, and soon he begins an affair and files for divorce.
When the couple divorces, the judge will likely grant rehabilitative alimony to the wife. This award of alimony will enable the wife to rehabilitate her career, so to speak, by paying her bills while she takes refresher courses in the law or while she works in a lower-paying legal job than she could have found had she not left the workforce to raise the couple’s children.
Take the same couple as an example, this time without children. After law school, the husband decides he wants to also go to medical school. His wife supports him – financially and emotionally. She puts her child-bearing plans on hold and climbs the law firm ladder to success by working long hours for demanding law partners.
After medical school, the husband decides he wants to get divorced. His earning capacity was enhanced during the marriage because of his wife’s support. He can now get a great job as a doctor or a lawyer. It is only fair that the wife be given reimbursement support to repay her for her investment in her husband’s career, now that it is clear she will never reap the benefits of her investment.
Rehabilitative alimony and reimbursement alimony are both meant to add fairness to a situation where one spouse makes a sacrifice early in the marriage, certain that the sacrifice will pay off down the road. When the couple gets divorced, that payday never comes. In the interest of justice, spousal support is then awarded to the spouse who made the sacrifice.