How Long Does Alimony Last In California?

Whether you are receiving alimony or paying it, those payments impact your financial situation in a big way. You need to know how long those payments will last.

There are quite a few factors that can affect the duration of alimony, so you need to make sure your attorney is aware of all the factors that are in your favor and that your attorney takes the right steps to bring them to the attention of the court.

Courts can order alimony payments while the divorce is in progress and then they make a separate determination regarding alimony payments for after the divorce is finalized. They are calculated differently, but since temporary alimony will terminate at the end of the divorce, the question about duration really only applies to alimony that is paid after the divorce becomes final.

The Length of the Marriage is a Big Part of the Equation

Although there are numerous issues that play a role in determining the amount and duration of alimony, the length of the marriage may be the most important. Courts apply standards to set “reasonable” duration for alimony in shorter marriages, but they approach the situation very differently for a marriage considered to be “long-term.”

California’s “Ten Year Rule” for Alimony

Ten years is the dividing line that separates lengthy marriages from other marriages. When a couple has been married at least ten years, they often settle into defined roles with one partner focusing more on the home while the other builds their career. The discrepancy between spouses’ incomes tends to increase each year, and the earning ability of the spouse who is less focused on career becomes much less than that of the other spouse.

The longer spouses are married, the more difficult it will be for the home-based spouse to become self-supporting and be able to enjoy the same type of lifestyle without assistance from the higher-earning spouse. For that reason, courts treat these longer marriages differently:

  • They don’t assume a “reasonable” duration for alimony payments
  • They may establish support payments with no defined end date
  • The court continues to retain jurisdiction over the case indefinitely.

That last provision means that the court will be able to go back and reconsider issues related to spousal support at any time in the future. (Spousal support is the official term for alimony under California statutes.)

Exceptions to the “Ten-Year Rule”

There are some exceptions to the “ten-year rule.” A court can consider a marriage that officially lasted ten years or more to not be a lengthy marriage if there were periods of separation during the marriage that shortened the amount of time the couple lived together so that it falls under the ten-year mark. The court also has the ability to treat a marriage that was shorter than ten years as one of “long duration” if the circumstances justify it.

Finally, if the parties executed a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement that covers alimony obligations, the terms of that agreement will override any of the provisions in the law regarding the length of payments.

If none of the exceptions apply, then alimony payments might go on until one spouse dies. However, because the court retains jurisdiction over the issue, the paying spouse might ask the court to end or reduce payments at some point and show that either the receiving spouse no longer needs support or that the paying spouse lacks the ability to pay it.

Marriages That are Less Than Ten Years

When a couple is divorcing after a marriage that is not deemed to be of long duration—generally, a marriage of less than ten years—then the law sets a benchmark for a “reasonable” duration for alimony. Support should continue to give a spouse a “reasonable” amount of time to become self-supporting. The assumption in the law is that half the duration of the marriage is a reasonable amount of time for that to occur. Remember, however, that both spouses can submit evidence to show why the assumption doesn’t apply and should be modified.

Holstrom, Block & Parke, APLC Supports Your Goals for Alimony in California

When parties present evidence to show that one spouse needs alimony and the other spouse has the ability to pay it, then it will be generally assumed to last at least half the amount of the time the couple was married. For an eight-year marriage, alimony payments might continue for four years. For a long-term marriage of over ten years, alimony might continue indefinitely. But the court will retain jurisdiction, so your attorney can present reasons why alimony should be ended or modified, even for a long-term marriage.

The team of Certified Family Law Specialists and associates at Holstrom, Block & Parke, APLC knows how to ensure that the court considers evidence of all the factors that weigh in your favor. Contact us today for assistance establishing or modifying alimony payments.

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