In many discussions about divorce, especially among the general public, the term alimony is used often, as is the term spousal support. Alimony is a well understood concept by adults. It’s generally viewed as a regular recurring payment to a divorced partner as a form of financial support or compensation. However, there’s also the term spousal support, which is being used quite frequently in modern discussions, particularly in professional circles such as actual courts of law, and when lawyers are dealing with clients.

So what is the difference between these two terms?

Time & Bias

The word alimony is the older of the two terms, having come from the Latin “alimonia” which means roughly nourishment, and the Scottish legal practice of “aliment” which was rule of law ensuring a husband had to provide food, shelter and other means of survival to a wife in the event that divorce occurred and the wife was forced to live on her own.

The concept of alimony has been in practice one form or another since as far back as 1700 BCE, though it has been in use as we understand roughly since the 19th century. Because of the traditional gender roles of earlier eras, alimony was regarded as a “one way street” in that it was always the responsibility of the husband to provide alimony to the wife, in cases where it was proven the divorce was not only necessary, but due to a failing on the part of the husband, such as infidelity. In cases where it was proven that the wife was at fault for a divorce, however, she simply surrendered any rights she may have had to alimony.

Today, the term Spousal Support is in more widespread use, because it both more accurately describes the concept, and lacks gender bias. In the 21st century both men and women can receive spousal support, but, more importantly, marriages and other partnerships are far more complex with same sex marriages and other unions requiring the same legal mechanisms and protections without the use of archaic language.

While alimony is still an “active” word today, it is likely to diminish in both popularity and use with more time.