"According to the Internal Revenue Service, former spouses pay around $9 billion in alimony each year. The amounts and payment schedules are usually decided by family court judges using a list of factors, including the length of the marriage, the ages and health of the spouses, their financial situations, their earning potential and their contributions to the marriage, financial and otherwise.
These criteria are sensible enough. But judges are on their own in deciding how to prioritize the various factors and how to translate them into dollar amounts, resulting in wildly inconsistent alimony awards. When asked how much alimony a lifelong homemaker married to a doctor deserved, judges in an Ohio survey estimated as little as $5,000 a year and as much as $175,000."