Don’t Confuse alimentos and “alimony”

Oh, no! False Friends

Alimentos has been rendered as “alimony” in several bilingual dictionaries but in Spanish law these expressions are not cognates. “Alimony” (also called “spousal support,” “spousal maintenance,” “financial provision for spouse,” etc.) is the English-language equivalent of what in Spanish law is known as a pensión compensatoria, a court-ordered allowance that one spouse pays to the economically weaker one as the result of a separation or divorce agreement (called convenio regulador) “para compensar el desequilibrio económico padecido por un cónyuge ” (Art. 97 CC). In Spain spousal support orders may provide for “permanent alimony” (pensión compensatoria indefinida), “temporary alimony,” (pensión compensatoria temporal), or “lump sum alimony” or “alimony in gross” (prestación compensatoria única; prestación a tanto alzado).

Rather than referring to “alimony,” in this context alimentos refers to a pensión alimenticia para los hijos, denoting what in English is most commonly known as “child support,” the amount paid after separation or divorce (usually by the noncustodial or nonresidential parent to the custodial or residential parent) for expenses incurred for children of the marriage (also called “child maintenance,” “child support maintenance,” etc.)

In a broader sense alimentos may likewise denote an obligación de alimentos or deuda alimenticia, i.e., a family member’s legal obligation to provide economic maintenance to another (Arts. 142 ff. CC). In this context, alimentante refers to the family member who provides economic support or maintenance to another, i.e., the “support (or) maintenance provider,” while the “support (or) maintenance recipient,” is described as an alimentista.

3 thoughts on “Don’t Confuse alimentos and “alimony”

  1. Rebecca,

    As you will see below (Federal Civil Code), under Mexican “alimentos” is used to refer both to the legal obligation of a family member to provide economic maintenance to others, as well as to the legal obligation to provide spousal and child support in a divorce situation. There is no separate concept, such as a “pensión compensatoria”:

    Artículo 232.- Los consortes pueden hacerse donaciones, con tal de que no sean contrarias a las
    capitulaciones matrimoniales, ni perjudiquen el derecho de los ascendientes o descendientes a recibir

    Artículo 288.- En los casos de divorcio necesario, el juez, tomando en cuenta las circunstancias del
    caso y entre ellas la capacidad para trabajar de los cónyuges y su situación económica, sentenciará al
    culpable al pago de alimentos en favor del inocente.

    En el caso de divorcio por mutuo consentimiento, la mujer tendrá derecho a recibir alimentos por el
    mismo lapso de duración del matrimonio, derecho que disfrutará si no tiene ingresos suficientes y
    mientras no contraiga nuevas nupcias o se una en concubinato

    Consequently, for us alimony, spousal and child support will translate as “alimentos” and this is a good example of a difference in legal terminology between two Spanish-speaking countries.


    • Hi Javier,
      I was aware of this difference with respect to Mexican terminology and for that reason was careful to indicate in my post that the information and terminology are from Spanish law. But thanks also for your input from a Mexican perspective.


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