Alimony (aka spousal support) is a tricky subject. The idea behind alimony is to limit the economic hardship imposed by a divorce. The spouse who earns more may be asked to contribute financially to the other spouse's income. Unlike child support, the courts are typically allowed a tremendous amount of freedom in determining how much alimony needs to be paid, and indeed whether it needs to be paid at all.
Also unlike child support, there are different types of alimony. The majority of spousal support is known as "rehabilitative." When one spouse, for example, drops out of the working world in order to raise children, he or she will need time to bring his or her skills up to snuff and to find gainful employment. In this type of situation, alimony will typically be ordered to be paid while the spouse is in school to learn a trade or specific skill set, and/or until he or she is able to land a job that allows him or her to be self-supporting.
Reimbursement alimony is another type of alimony and occurs when one spouse is awarded reimbursement for expenses occurred during the marriage. These expenses don't refer to expenses such as purchases or trips. Instead, reimbursement alimony tends to be awarded when one spouse stepped out of the workforce in order to increase his earning potential. If one spouse put the other through medical school or business school, for example, that spouse could ask for reimbursement for tuition and the cost of running the household. Reimbursement alimony has a definitive end as it stops once the debt has been repaid.
Occasionally, spousal support may be ordered to be paid indefinitely. This usually occurs when the spouse to whom it is awarded is incapable of supporting him or herself. Someone who is chronically ill or permanently disabled may be a candidate for permanent spousal support.
Since courts have so much leeway in determining whether and how much alimony is paid, it's always a smart decision to consult with a lawyer familiar with the ruling trends in your county. A lawyer will not only be able help you determine whether you are eligible for alimony in the first place, but also what a reasonable alimony request (meaning one that is likely to be granted) might be.