How Long Does Alimony Last?
Let's look at marriage duration, income and lifestyle to understand how long alimony lasts
How long does alimony last? The answer may surprise you
Alimony's duration (how long it "lasts") can keep husbands and wives who anticipate going through a divorce up at night.
How long alimony lasts affects financial security and financial planning.
For the spouse who pays alimony and the one who receives it, alimony affects income, expenses and their standard of living.
The article covers California divorces and no other State.
We discuss the duration of alimony in short and long marriages, its termination and those situations where neither spouse wants alimony now but one or both of them want to keep their options open.
We hope you enjoy this article.
Table of Contents for this Alimony Duration Guide
Here is a table of contents of the topics we will cover in this alimony duration guide. If you want to jump ahead, click on the image below.
How long does alimony last in a short marriage?
Most people believe there is an inflexible line that divides a short marriage from a long term one. That is incorrect.
A marriage of under 10 years may under some circumstances be considered a long-term marriage.
A marriage of over 10 years can be treated like a short marriage.
For the purposes of this section, we will keep it simple. Let us assume we have a five-year marriage and neither spouse suffers from any disability.
In a typical short-term marriage, alimony lasts one half the duration of the marriage.
So, in a five-year marriage, alimony may be as long as 2.5 years. In an eight-year marriage, alimony may last four years
Does that mean alimony will last half of the marriage's duration in every short term marriage? The answer is no.
The length of the marriage is one consideration in the duration of alimony. It is not the only consideration.
That is why Family Code 4320 has several factors the court must take into consideration, whether it is a short marriage or long marriage, when the court decides how long alimony will last and how much alimony will be.
How long does alimony last in a marriage of 10 or more years?
Let us assume there is a 20 year marriage and there is no question the marriage will be treated as a long-term one.
In such a situation, alimony will typically last without a specific termination date. What that means is the court may order alimony until death of either spouse, remarriage (or domestic partnership) of the spouse who receives alimony or further order of the court, whichever occurs first.
That language "further order of the court" is what keeps alimony continuing.
This is also where a lot of confusion starts.
Spouses wrongly assume such an order can never change. That is not true.
Unless spouses agreed to a court order that made alimony unmodifiable, alimony is typically modifiable. So even in a 20 year marriage, either spouse may ask the court in the future to modify alimony.
That modification may be a downward modification, termination of alimony or, under some circumstances, an upward modification of alimony.
How long does alimony last if the marriage minimally passed the ten-year mark?
This happens in ten or eleven year marriages although one can make the same argument in a twelve or thirteen year marriage. Once again, the rules are flexible.
Alimony in such cases may be similar to a 20 year marriage or may be cut off at the halfway duration of the marriage. The facts of the individual case control. Here are two examples.
Hypothetical number one where alimony duration may be short
Assume the marriage is 10.5 years, both spouses are and remain healthy, both worked during the marriage and there is a $30,000 per year income difference between them. The paying spouse earns $100,000 per year. The other spouse earns $70,000 per year.
There will likely be alimony by the higher earning spouse to the other spouse. The number will not be large given the minimal difference in income, but will it be indefinite?
How long will alimony last in this hypothetical?
We think the paying spouse has a good argument for an end date especially if the spouse who receives alimony continues to receive pay increases.
The paying spouse may or may not accomplish this with the order in the judgment but he or she has a good chance of achieving it in the future.
Hypothetical number two where alimony duration may be much longer
Assume now the marriage is again 10.5 years, one spouse makes $100,000 per year and the other spouse is physically disabled, has not worked throughout the marriage and his or her earning ability is minimal.
How long does alimony last in this second hypothetical?
We think the paying spouse will have a difficult time convincing a Court to end alimony at the half-way mark.
Does that mean alimony will last forever?
We are still talking about a 10.5 year marriage, not a 20 year marriage, so there may still be a chance for a reduction or possibly a termination in the future.
However, what each ex-spouse's financial situation is like at that time will likely control the outcome.
Can spouses agree to terminate alimony in a long-term marriage?
Yes, spouses have the power to stipulate (just a legal word for "agree") for the court to terminate alimony in a long-term marriage.
This is also true in a short term marriage.
Whether that is advisable or not of course no article can answer. That also depends on the facts of the case and legal advice is critical.
How long does alimony last if neither spouse wants alimony right now?
Spouses will sometimes agree to a zero alimony order or a "reserved" alimony order. That means alimony may not be justified now but neither spouse wants to terminate alimony either.
A common situation for this is when both spouses earn approximately the same or similar amount and neither has the need or ability to pay the other alimony.
Spouses should be careful not to terminate alimony just because both of them do not need it now.
Nobody can predict the future. Life is not predictable. Loss of job, illness or serious disability may occur.
Got questions about your case and how long alimony should last in your situation?
Our family law firm is highly experienced in handling divorces and post-judgment matters that involve alimony disputes, on behalf of the spouse who pays and the spouse who receives alimony.
Want to chat? Schedule an affordable strategy session with us. We handle family law matters in each of the Southern California counties.
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Here are two more guides on alimony we think you will enjoy. Click on each image to visit that page.