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SECTIONNote that answers given in this section cannot take the place of a lawyer. For legal advice about your specific situation, you must consult a qualified lawyer. See our disclaimer.

"Is it true that you are automatically entitled to receive alimony for a percentage of the number of years you were married?"

All too often, clients are convinced that the advice they receive from a well-intentioned friend or relative is "the law." Advice concerning alimony is some of the most liberally given; unfortunately, it is usually without merit. Clients have told me (with great conviction) over the years that: only men pay alimony (a myth); all women are entitled to alimony (also a myth); and a cheating spouse always pays alimony (to the great disappointment of many, not true!).

Another great myth is that a spouse is automatically entitled to receive alimony for a percentage of the number of years married. Although the laws governing alimony vary from state to state, the idea that a precise formula exists to determine the amount or duration of alimony is not true. Whether or not alimony is awarded (and if so, for what period of time) is determined by many factors. While the length of a marriage is a factor in determining alimony, a delicate balance of all of the circumstances of the marriage must be examined before alimony is decided. Income, age, and lifestyle are just a few of the factors that many states will consider. Each case is fact-sensitive and should be individually analyzed based upon the circumstances unique to the marriage and the law of the state.

Although you may be disappointed that the award of alimony in your case is for more or fewer years than you expected, a legal consultation is always a worthwhile investment. You may learn that although you will receive alimony for fewer years than expected, the amount to be paid each year is more than you anticipated. Perhaps your circumstances do not warrant that you have exposure to pay alimony. At the very least, knowledge of how the law in your state impacts on the issue of alimony will help you distinguish myth from reality.

Patricia M. Barbarito is a partner in the law firm of Einhorn, Harris, Ascher, Barbarito & Frost, P.C., located in Morris County, NJ. She is a former chair of the Family Law Section of the New Jersey State Bar Association, a member of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, and a frequent lecturer on divorce. She can be reached at (973) 627-7300. View her firm's Divorce Magazine profile.