What’s the Difference Between Spousal and Child Support?

cropped shot of hands of lawyer and client, divorce decree and wedding rings on table

When a marriage or domestic partnership ends, there are often legal issues that need to be resolved. Two of the most common issues are spousal support and child support. While they may seem similar, there are significant differences between the two.


Spousal support, also known as alimony, refers to payments made by one spouse to the other after a divorce or separation. It is intended to provide financial support for a spouse who was financially dependent on the other during the marriage. Child support, on the other hand, is money paid by one parent to the other for the benefit of their children. It is meant to cover the costs of raising a child, including expenses for food, shelter, clothing, and education.


The eligibility requirements for spousal support and child support are different. Spousal support is generally awarded to a spouse who has less earning capacity or income than the other spouse. This may be due to factors such as being a stay-at-home parent, having a lower-paying job, or being unable to work due to health reasons. Child support is typically awarded to the custodial parent, who has primary physical custody of the child.


The purpose of spousal support is to ensure that both parties can maintain a standard of living similar to what they had during the marriage or partnership. It is meant to offset any financial disadvantages that may occur due to the end of the relationship. Child support, on the other hand, is intended to provide for the basic needs of a child, such as food, shelter, and clothing.

Factors Considered

When determining spousal support, the court will consider factors such as the length of the marriage, each spouse’s income and earning potential, and any contributions made by one spouse to support the other’s career. Child support is based on the needs of the child, including healthcare expenses, education costs, and childcare expenses. The income of both parents is also taken into account.


Spousal support may be temporary or permanent, depending on the circumstances of the divorce. It can also be modified if there are changes in the financial situation of either party. Child support, however, typically lasts until the child turns 18 or graduates from high school. In some cases, it may continue through college.

Tax Implications

Spousal support is tax-deductible for the paying spouse and taxable income for the receiving spouse. Child support, on the other hand, is neither tax-deductible nor taxable.


While both spousal support and child support involve payments made by one party to another after a relationship ends, they serve different purposes and are determined based on different factors. Understanding these differences can help individuals navigate their legal obligations and ensure that both parties are provided for after the end of a marriage or domestic partnership. So, it is essential to consult with a family law attorney to fully understand your rights and responsibilities in these matters. Overall, it is important to prioritize the well-being and financial stability of all parties involved, especially any children who may be affected by the separation.