How Long Will Alimony Last In California?

Alimony, which is referred to in California statutes as spousal support, is money the court orders one spouse to pay to another during or after a divorce. Payments can also be ordered among domestic partners, in which case it’s known as domestic partner support. A court can also spousal support in a legal separation or if there is a domestic violence restraining order in place.

So when the court orders alimony, when do the payments stop? There are a variety of factors that affect the answer, so let’s take a look.

Is the Case Still Going On?

When a legal case such as a divorce is not yet final, then support that is ordered is temporary. A spouse or partner can ask for support as soon as the case is filed. The purpose of this type of support is to assist in enabling the spouse or partner to continue to maintain the same lifestyle as they enjoyed before the separation or domestic violence incident.

This type of support ends when the case is finalized.

Long-Term Support

Support ordered for a spouse or domestic partner after the conclusion of a case is referred to as long-term support or sometimes permanent support. Long-term alimony is designed to give a spouse who is at a financial disadvantage compared to the other spouse the opportunity to become self-supporting “within a reasonable period of time.”

Section 4320 of the California Family Code defines a “reasonable period” as half the length of the marriage, if the marriage lasted less than ten years. For longer marriages, the law does not create an assumption about the duration of payments. In either situation, the statute specifies that the court has discretion to order alimony obligations to be set for a longer or shorter the guidelines, depending on the facts of the case. These include:

  • The marketable skills of the party receiving support
  • The extent to which the receiving party’s earning capacity was impaired by periods when they were not working in order to support the home
  • Whether the receiving party’s ability to work is affected by the need to care for dependent children
  • The standard of living during the marriage
  • Any documented history of domestic violence
  • The extent to which the receiving party contributed to the career advancement of the paying partner
  • Age and health of both partners

In addition to these and other factors listed in the statute, the court can also consider additional issues brought to their attention. If you are seeking or being asked to pay support, it is critical to ensure that you provide your attorney with all information that could potentially affect your need for or ability to pay support.

So, when a partner has shown that they need support, the starting assumption may be that support can last for up to half as long as the couple was married or in a domestic partnership. However, if you can present evidence to demonstrate why it should be longer or shorter, the duration can be changed substantially. Presentation of evidence is vital.

When Alimony Automatically Ends

Parties can agree about how long support obligations should continue, or the court can establish the end date. However, alimony payments can terminate earlier in certain situations.

For instance, support obligations terminate if the receiving party remarries or if either party dies. The law allows for the establishment of an annuity or other provision to continue support payments if the payor should die while the receiving party still needs support.)

Requesting a Modification or Termination Due to Change in Circumstances

If a party receiving alimony is cohabiting with a new partner, that establishes a rebuttable presumption that the receiving party has a decreased need for support. The party paying support can ask the court to modify or terminate alimony obligations.

Other circumstances that substantially affect the paying partner’s ability to pay or the receiving partner’s need for support could also justify a modification or end of support. However, it is important to receive approval from the court before making any changes, because prior obligations remain in force until changed by a new court order.

Work with an Attorney Prepared to Fight for Your Goals for Alimony

The court is supposed to establish alimony terms that are fair and reasonable for both parties, but sometimes they only see one side of the picture. At Holstrom, Block & Parke, APLC, our experienced family law attorneys know how to ensure that the court sees and considers the factors that support your goals for alimony. For help establishing, modifying, or terminating obligations, contact our team today.

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