How Long Do You Pay Spousal Support?
Spousal support payments are one of the tools the court uses to ensure one spouse doesn’t fall off a financial cliff after filing for divorce. Spousal support is intended to help equalize the difference in incomes between the spouses once they set up separate households. Spousal support was originally established to recognize that one spouse often sacrifices their earning capacity during the marriage to stay at home with the children, or to manage the household, which allows the other spouse to focus more time and attention on building a career. This arrangement creates a financial imbalance when the couple no longer shares a household and this same income now has to support two individuals in two separate households. While spousal support rarely allows for both parties to live at the standard of living they enjoyed during the marriage, spousal support is intended to help the supported spouse avoid a significant drop in their standard of living after separation.
So how long do you pay spousal support in California? Multiple factors can play into that answer, like how long you were married and what other support is in place. The rest of this article will examine those factors.
Temporary and Long Term Spousal Support
An important distinction to take into account is the distinction between temporary spousal support and long term or permanent spousal support (sometimes called alimony, though California doesn’t use this term anymore). Temporary spousal support refers to the support that is paid while the family law case is underway. You can request temporary support as soon as your case is filed, generally through the filing of a motion to determine spousal support.
Long-term, or permanent spousal support, on the other hand, is determined toward the end of the divorce proceedings, generally when the division of assets and debts has been determined, and is prospective support, often extending into the future for 3- 5 years.
Temporary spousal support tends to be higher, to provide more immediate financial security. Longer term support tends to be lower, and often has a set end date or a step-down in amounts over time.
How Long is Long Term?
Spousal support payments aren’t generally designed to be paid out indefinitely. Support is not intended to foster an indefinite reliance on the ex -spouse, rather, spousal support is intended to support the receiving spouse long enough for them to become self-supporting.
For marriages lasting less than 10 years, the court generally assumes that half of the length of the marriage is a long enough amount of time to become self-supporting. For example, after being married for 6 years, the court will likely assume that it will take 3 years for the recipient spouse to become self-supporting, and will make temporary or long term spousal support payments with this end date in mind.
However for marriages that lasted longer than 10 years, there is no clear guideline for when a spouse should be able to support themselves. Also, the court cannot terminate jurisdiction to award spousal support to either party at some point in the future. The parties can agree between themselves to end the court’s ability to award support to either party, but the court continues to maintain the ability to make an award of spousal support to a party until that party remarries or dies.
There are a number of other factors the courts consider when determining the length of spousal support payments such as:
- Relative Incomes and Assets Available to the parties that they can use to support themselves
- Demonstrated Need for Support By A Party
- How Raising Kids Affected Ability to Work
- Health/Ability to Work
Payment Ends When…
Absent an agreement between the parties or court order, spousal support generally ends when the supported party remarries, or when either party dies.
If you and your spouse sign an agreement about when payments will end, and the court agrees that it is fair, then that document is authoritative.
The court can also end it on their own in cases where the parties were married for less than 10 years.
Working With Hart Ginney
If you’re looking for clarity working through any part of the divorce process, including spousal support, it’s important to work with an attorney who knows the ins and outs of the legal system.
At Hart Ginney, we have years of experience working with clients from a variety of financial backgrounds and are prepared to advocate fiercely so that you get the best possible outcome. Connect with us today to learn more about working with our team.