How Long Does Spousal Support Last?

One of the many avenues to navigate when it comes to alimony is spousal support. While spousal support is aimed at helping the lower-earning spouse financially, it doesn’t last forever.

Whether you’re the one paying for spousal support or receiving it, it’s important to know the factors surrounding spousal support, especially how long you can expect it to last.

We’re going to take an in-depth look at spousal support, how long it generally lasts, and the factors that go into deciding the duration.

What is Spousal Support?

Spousal support, or alimony as it’s also called, is financial support that the court orders one spouse to pay another during separation or following divorce. It is not granted in all divorces. When it is included in a divorce settlement, the spouse who is paying the alimony is the payor. The spouse receiving the money is the payee.

The purpose of alimony is to ensure that the payee is financially stable following a divorce. Alimony is typically granted when one spouse earns a substantial amount more than the other. The end of the marriage could result in a major decline in the quality of life for the lower-earner. Alimony is ordered to make sure this isn’t the case.

When is Spousal Support Decided?

Spousal support is decided when a couple decides to divorce. In the best-case scenario, both parties can negotiate the terms and agree. Couples can determine how much is appropriate, when the alimony is paid, and how long it will last. This is the quickest and least expensive way to determine spousal support.

If the couple can’t agree on the terms of spousal support, the court will get involved. A judge will decide if alimony should be awarded, how much, and for how long. As you can imagine, when the court gets involved, the proceedings become more expensive and time-consuming.

Factors that Determine How Long Spousal Support Lasts

When the court gets involved in determining if alimony should be granted, it will look at many deciding factors such as:

  • Length of the marriage
  • Age and health of each spouse
  • Lifestyle the couple had during the marriage
  • How each spouse contributed to the marriage
  • Financial needs of the payee in relation to the payor
  • Whether there are children involved and how much child support is awarded
  • The reason the marriage ended
  • If the lower-earning partner can support themself

As a judge puts all of these pieces together, they will decide if spousal support will be granted.

How Much Spousal Support Will I Receive?

If spousal support will be awarded, the next step is to determine how much. These factors will impact that decision:

Length of the Marriage

The longer the marriage, the better the chances of receiving a larger amount of spousal support.

Supporting Spouse’s Ability to Pay

The payor’s ability to pay and have enough income to support two households is a major factor in how much spousal support is given.

Educational or Emotional Support

If one spouse supported the other through school or a difficult time, the court will consider this when awarding alimony. The alimony is considered compensation for previous support given during marriage.

Best Interest of the Children

The best interest of the children is always taken into consideration and whether alimony will help to support them.

Ability to Earn

The court will look at both spouses’ current earning capacity and their future earnings potential. If one spouse expects to earn more money in the future, it can impact the amount of the alimony awarded.

Length of Spousal Support

Spousal support can be awarded temporarily, on a permanent basis, or for a set duration. If spousal support is temporary, it may only last while the case is moving through the system. It is designed to ensure that the payee is financially stable while the case is being settled.

Alimony can be set for a specific period or long enough for the payee to get the necessary education or experience to become self-sufficient. Typically, the longer the marriage, the longer the spousal support payments will last.

Lifetime alimony is rare. Some cases when it is awarded include when a long-lasting marriage ended and if the payee gave up his or her career to stay home and support their spouse. It can also be ordered if the payee is disabled and cannot work.

If a prenuptial agreement is in place, it will likely dictate spousal support payments. In these cases, a judge will follow the agreement to determine how long the payments will be made.

Circumstances That Impact When Alimony Will End

If the payee remarries or moves in with a new partner, their alimony will typically end. The death of either spouse will also terminate spousal support.

If financial circumstances change for either party, the payor can petition the court and ask for a modification. This can be for the amount of the duration.

FAQ About Spousal Support

What is temporary alimony?

Temporary alimony can be granted while the divorce is in progress. Once the divorce is finalized, there may not be any more reason for the payments. If alimony is awarded, it can be higher or lower than the temporary amount.

Can I ask for alimony once the divorce settlement is over?

To receive spousal support, you must request it during the divorce proceeding. You will not be allowed to request it once the case is over.

What do I do if my former spouse is behind in spousal support?

You can file a motion for contempt and ask the court to take steps to enforce the order.

The Bottom Line

Understanding spousal support and the circumstances surrounding it will ensure that you receive what you may be entitled to. It is also important to be fully aware of the rules if you are the one ordered to pay. Working with your spouse can help to come to a fair agreement more quickly and cost-effectively. If a court gets involved, they will look at several factors, including length of marriage and earning capability, to determine the duration and amount of spousal support.

Spousal support is generally granted for a set duration, with lifetime alimony being the exception. The death or remarriage of a spouse can end spousal support payments.

As you go through your divorce settlement, be sure to refer to this information so that you receive the payments you may be entitled to.