Spousal support is a type of monetary award a judge may order one spouse to pay the other during a divorce case to make up for an income disparity between the parties. The goal of spousal support is to help the recipient financially while he or she takes steps toward financial independence, such as going to school or training for a job. If a judge awarded your spouse a support order during a divorce case, you may be curious as to how long the arrangement will last – and whether you can end spousal support early.
Short-Term vs. Long-Term Marriage
The duration of your spousal support obligation will depend largely on the length of your marriage in California. As a general principle, the courts use 10 years as the standard for awarding temporary vs. permanent spousal support. If your marriage lasted less than 10 years, your spousal support payments will have an expiration date. Marriages that lasted 10 years or longer, however, will not come with a specific duration for spousal support payments. The courts may continue your spousal support indefinitely.
A short-term marriage, on the other hand, will come with a specific date by which your spousal support obligation will end. Although a judge will have the ultimate discretion in how long your spousal support obligation will last, most courts abide by the same general rule: support will last for half the length of the marriage. If your marriage lasted six years, therefore, you may have to pay your spouse support for three years from the date of your divorce. Several other factors could affect how long you must pay spousal support, however.
What Ends Spousal Support?
You may not have to pay spousal support for the full duration of the original order in some situations. Specific things can end spousal support early. One of the most common occurrences is the remarriage of the spouse receiving the support. Remarrying will automatically forfeit the spouse’s right to receive spousal support from his or her ex. Living with another person for longer than three months could also be grounds to end the spousal support order. Other events that could end spousal support are the paying spouse reaching full retirement age and the death of either spouse.
Can You End Spousal Support Early?
The paying spouse cannot decide to stop paying spousal support without first petitioning the courts with a valid reason for the change. If you owe your ex-spouse support payments, stopping them without a judge’s permission could lead to serious consequences. The courts could put you in contempt. You may face fines and other penalties, such as wage garnishment, to make up for your missed payments. You may also owe your ex-spouse additional money in interest.
The courts will only consider certain grounds as valid reasons to stop a support order before the termination date. The most common reason is a significant change in the circumstances of either party. If you lose your job or get a demotion, for example, this may be a valid reason to petition the courts to decrease or end your support obligation. If your spouse gets a job, this could also end a support order early. You and your spouse can either agree to different terms and send the stipulation to a judge for approval, or you can petition the courts independently for a review of your case.
As soon as you have a change in circumstance, ask for a new court order regarding your spousal support. Ask right away so your spousal support order can reflect the changes to you or your spouse’s financial situation. A judge may only make changes to your order from the date you petition the courts. If you lost your job three months before filing for a change, for example, you cannot receive a break from the spousal support you owed during those three months. Acting quickly could help you end a spousal support order before any negative consequences.