Spousal Support

Alimony After Divorce - How Long Do I Have to Pay? by Cassandra Hearn

The end of a marriage is often one of the most financially stressful events in a person’s life.  Separating finances is complicated, and it is challenging to support a household on one sole income when there used to be two.  When one party’s income outstrips the income of the other spouse, it is possible that the economically disadvantaged spouse will request an award of alimony.  It is very common for the paying spouse to ask how long he or she will have to pay alimony and when the alimony can be eliminated.

One rule of thumb to remember is that the longer the marriage, usually the longer the award of alimony.  For short term marriages, alimony is often awarded for half the term of the marriage.  For example, if you and your spouse were married for only seven years, any alimony award will likely last for about three and a half years.  Conversely, if the marriage was thirty years, the court may not put any end date on the alimony award at all.  California family code 4336 provides that in a marriage of long duration, the court will retain jurisdiction indefinitely to modify the alimony amount.  The statute also provides that any marriage that lasts ten years or more from the date of marriage to the date of separation is considered a long term marriage, but a court may still decide that a shorter marriage qualifies as one of “long duration.” A court can make any order it wants about amount and duration of alimony based on the factors set out in the family code. 

As to when an alimony obligation will end, a court order will provide if and when the obligation will terminate.  However, that is not to say that the paying party cannot return to court before the end date ordered by the court in order to request a termination of an alimony obligation.  To modify an alimony order, the paying spouse will need to prove there has been a significant change in circumstances.  This could be something such as the remarriage of the spouse receiving spousal support or one or both spouses have had a major change in employment and income.

Alimony and modification of alimony are often central issues in family law cases.  Contact us today to discuss your financial situation and what we can do for you.