Alimony, also referred to as “spousal support,” is often one of the most contested aspects of any divorce case. Significantly, the duration of alimony doesn’t only affect future financial planning, but it can impact a spouse’s sense of economic security. Whether you’re the spouse paying alimony or receiving it, alimony can affect your everyday expenses and quality of living. So, how long does alimony last?
Alimony is payment made by one spouse to the other when a marriage has ended. The purpose of alimony is to help ensure the spouse who was financially dependent during the marriage does not incur any unfair financial burdens after divorce. Alimony isn’t automatic or ordered in every case. In fact, answering the questions, “How is alimony determined?” and “How long does alimony last?” can be complex — a court will look to various factors to decide whether an alimony award is appropriate.
There are a number of factors that can affect how much alimony you will have to pay in a California divorce. Alimony can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars per month, based on the specific facts of your case.
In deciding an alimony award, California courts will evaluate the following:
A dependent spouse may ask for an order of temporary spousal support, which lasts for the duration of the divorce proceedings. However, temporary support doesn’t guarantee permanent alimony — it terminates if the final judgment that is issued rules against it.
If alimony is ordered by the court, payments will begin once your divorce is finalized and you have been issued your decree. Alimony payments will usually continue until one of the following events occur:
Both spouses have the power to make alimony payments stop at any time. But once a judge has ordered alimony, a motion must be made to the court for a modification or to terminate payments. In addition, spouses may sometimes agree to a zero alimony order — also known as a “reserved” alimony order. This means that neither spouse wishes to receive alimony payments at the time of the divorce but reserves the right to request it in the future. This situation commonly arises when both spouses make approximately the same income, and neither spouse has the ability to pay alimony.
Determining what should be considered a short-term versus a long-term marriage isn’t always clear-cut. Depending on the facts and circumstances, a marriage of over ten years might be treated as a short-term marriage. Generally, in short-term marriages of less than ten years, alimony lasts for one-half the duration of the length of the marriage. The length of the marriage is only one factor that is considered in determining how long alimony will last.
California courts usually consider marriages lasting more than ten years to be “long-term marriages.” In these cases, alimony may be ordered without any specific end date. Rather, alimony would continue until a spouse dies, remarries, or the court orders payment to stop.
Notably, many people mistakenly believe that when this type of order is issued, payments can never stop. But this is incorrect. Even in long-term marriages, alimony may be changed at any time by making a motion to the court — unless the spouses agree that the order is unmodifiable. Importantly, if an alimony order is not modifiable, the paying spouse will be required to make payments regardless of any change in the financial circumstances of either spouse.
Even when the duration of alimony is specified in a court order, it is typically modifiable unless the spouses agree otherwise. But unless both spouses consent to a modification of alimony, one must demonstrate that there has been a material change in circumstances if they wish to modify or terminate the order. For instance, if the supporting spouse can no longer afford to make payments or the receiving spouse has had a substantial increase in income, a judge may change the alimony order or grant a request to stop payments.
If you’re considering divorce, it’s crucial to be fully informed regarding alimony — whether you are the paying or receiving spouse. A knowledgeable divorce attorney can protect your rights and help to ensure a fair outcome is reached in your case. Providing skillful counsel and high-quality legal services, The Law Offices of Rick D. Banks has been representing clients throughout Fresno and the surrounding area with their divorce and family law matters for over 20 years. To schedule a no obligation consultation, call (559)222-4891.