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How Long Do Spousal Support Payments Last in California?

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Whether you are on the paying or receiving end of spousal support, chances are you are concerned not just with how much money is involved, but how much time will be involved, too. Traditionally known as “alimony,” spousal support in California is an arrangement where one ex-spouse pays a sum of money over time to their ex-spouse.

The purpose of this arrangement is to help the lesser or non-earning spouse afford the standard of living they became accustomed to during their marriage. While it should go without saying, this means the higher-earning spouse will likely end up making payments to their ex for a period of time.

Before we get into how long a spousal support order can last and what goes into making one, let’s clear up a common misconception. Many people believe that in a heterosexual marriage, the woman will always end up receiving spousal support from her husband. This is a misconception created by the traditional notion that a husband must be the primary and higher-earning spouse in a marriage.

When this is the case, people will notice more men ending up on the paying side of spousal support. That said, the courts don’t take the sex of the spouses into account when they decide on spousal support. It is purely a function of weighing which spouse needs financial help and which one can provide it.

Spousal Support Duration in California

In California, the law can get rather complex when it comes to spousal support. Without getting too far into the weeds, we’ll take a look at the two types of spousal support – temporary and permanent – as well as how and why they’re ordered.

Temporary Spousal Support

As you might have guessed, temporary spousal support is an arrangement guided by clear parameters that determine when it is terminated. For example, a judge may order temporary spousal support until a divorce is finalized. Because there is a clear point at which the support will end – even if no one’s really sure how long it could take to get there – it’s considered temporary.

Permanent Spousal Support

The other type of spousal support is permanent, which is ordered to begin after a divorce is finalized. How long a permanent spousal support order will last varies depending upon a variety of factors – in some cases, the term “permanent” can be quite literal.

For marriages that lasted less than 10 years, there is a presumption that spousal support should be paid for half of the marriage’s total duration. This means that if a marriage lasted eight years, spousal support could last for about four years at maximum. This idea here is that a couple was married long enough for support to be needed but not long enough that it should potentially outlast the actual duration of the marriage itself.

Speaking of which, spousal support orders can endure much longer when marriages last 10 or more years before divorce. The state considers these long-term marriages, and there will be no set duration for spousal support. So, yes, this means an order can stay in effect forever.

Other Factors Contribute to Spousal Support Duration

How long spousal support lasts isn’t solely left up to how long the marriage lasted. There are some things that can happen after divorce that could effectively end spousal support obligations.

These include the following:

  • The recipient spouse cohabits with another person for longer than three months
  • The recipient spouse gets remarried
  • The paying spouse reaches full retirement age
  • Either spouse dies

When any of these events happens, the paying spouse must petition the court to end spousal support arrangements. It does not happen automatically, and the burden of proof will be on the petitioner.

Fortunately for the families of paying spouses, spousal support is terminated when that person dies. In other words, their estate is not obligated to continue spousal support or make any other such payments to the deceased’s ex-spouse.

We Can Help with Your Spousal Support Order

If you need assistance negotiating, modifying, or terminating spousal support, we at Claery & Hammond, LLP can help. Our dedicated attorneys have many years of experience when it comes to divorce and family law issues, and we’re prepared to provide each client with the personalized level of service they need.

For more information about how we can help, schedule a consultation by contacting us online or by calling (310) 817-6904.


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