How Long Do I Have to Pay Spousal Support in California?

Spousal support, also known as alimony or spousal maintenance, is an award the courts in California will sometimes order during a divorce or separation case. The purpose of spousal support is to allow one spouse to continue enjoying the quality of life he or she had during the marriage.

A judge in San Diego may award spousal support if one spouse makes significantly less than the other, especially if the lower-earning spouse gave up a career and earning capacity to raise a family. If a judge has ordered you to pay spousal support in California, find out how long you will have this financial obligation to your ex-spouse. The San Diego divorce lawyers at Boyd Law Firm can help you understand how spousal support works in California.

How Does a Judge Determine Alimony Length?

It is natural not to want any connections to your ex-spouse after a divorce or separation. If a judge orders you to pay spousal support, however, the law obligates you to continue making spousal support payments until the arranged termination date. How long you will have to pay spousal support to your ex will depend on the unique elements of the case and the decision of the judge.

Generally, the courts in California award spousal support based on the length of the marriage. In California, spousal support typically lasts half the length of the marriage. If the couple was married for six years, for example, a judge would make a spousal support obligation last for three years. This rule only applies, however, to a marriage with a total length of less than 10 years.

If a marriage lasted longer than 10 years, a judge will not determine alimony duration. Instead, the judge will require the paying spouse to continue paying until he or she can prove spousal support is no longer financially necessary. If the couple was married for a very short period, a judge may not award alimony at all.

how long does alimony last in California

Is There Such a Thing as Permanent Alimony in California?

The two main types of spousal support in California are temporary and permanent. These titles are somewhat misleading, as they refer to when a judge grants them rather than how long they last. A temporary spousal support award is made before the divorce or separation is finalized. It provides financial support to one receiving spouse during the legal proceeding. A permanent support order, on the other hand, comes after the finalization of a divorce judgement as part of the dissolution of marriage decree.

Permanent alimony in California is often not permanent at all. It is very rare for a judge to order someone to pay spousal support for the rest of the recipient’s life. Instead, a permanent spousal support order generally lasts a certain number of years based on the length of the marriage and the earning capacity of each party. A judge will use the half-of-marriage rule for a union under 10 years long. Over 10 years, a judge can use his or her own discretion in the number of years a spouse must pay.

Certain things could terminate a spousal support order earlier than the time set by a judge. If the recipient spouse remarries, for example, or obtains a job, this could terminate that spouse’s eligibility for alimony. The paying spouse will have to petition the courts to terminate the spousal support order in these situations, and a judge will have to agree on the change for the supported party.

Can You Modify Your Spousal Support Order in California?

Someone can modify a spousal support order or terminate it early in California. This can occur in two different ways. The first is both spouses agreeing to the modification and bringing a new agreement to the court for an official order. The second is one spouse showing evidence of a material change of circumstances from the date of the original court order. A significant decrease in income, for example, could impact a spousal support order. For more information about spousal support amounts and duration in California, contact a family law attorney.