During the divorce process or after separation, one spouse has a legal obligation to support the other spouse financially for a certain period. That’s what’s commonly known as alimony or spousal support, but how long does alimony last?
Typically, the amount and duration of alimony payments vary, whether determined through court or the negotiations between the divorcing couple. All in all, it’s essential to understand the factors that can affect how alimony works.
In this article, we’ll tackle all the aspects of alimony payments, their types, and how they’re measured. So, if you’re going through a divorce or just seeking further knowledge about this legal concept, you’re in the right place.
What Exactly Is Alimony?
In many marriages, one party is usually the primary financial supporter of the family. Mostly, this person has a significantly higher income than the other.
However, when a couple chooses to get a divorce, the lower-earning spouse can be left without the necessary financial resources. That’s why alimony matters.
In certain circumstances, a judge awards alimony to one of the spouses after separation. It’s a way of helping many people get through divorce and back on their feet in a shorter time. That’s especially vital when one spouse has always been financially dependent on the other for long.
That said, alimony payments aren’t permanent. They’re only there to help one party until they’re able to find another way to support themselves.
What Are the Types and Duration of Alimony?
Alimony comes in many forms, each tailored to address specific circumstances and needs of the divorcing couples. It’s crucial to know the different types of alimony to get a better understanding of how they work.
Here are the most common types.
- Temporary Alimony: This type provides immediate financial support to the lower-earning spouse during the divorce process.
- Purpose: It aims to help maintain the financial status of the payee until both parties reach a suitable divorce settlement.
- Duration: Temporary alimony payments only last until the divorce is finalized.
- Permanent Alimony: It’s awarded to a spouse who may not have the ability to become financially independent due to age, health, or other factors.
- Purpose: The main goal of permanent alimony is to provide ongoing financial support to the payee (monthly).
- Duration: It can last for a long time and only ceases when a certain event occurs. Such events may include the remarriage of the payee or the death of either spouse.
- Rehabilitative Alimony: This type of alimony is often awarded when one spouse has been out of work for a long time and needs additional education (or training) to secure a job.
- Purpose: It’s to help the payee (financially dependent spouse) in the journey to achieve financial independence.
- Duration: The duration usually depends on the goal the payee needs to achieve. This can range from a few months of vocational training to getting a four-year college degree. Once the payee reaches the agreed-upon goal, alimony payments cease.
- Reimbursement Alimony: This type isn’t based on the financial need of one spouse but on reimbursement for past support.
- Purpose: It’s awarded to compensate one spouse for the financial contribution or sacrifice made during the marriage. That’s especially applicable to aspects that benefited the other spouse directly, education or career-wise.
- Duration: It’s often paid for a fixed time that the court determines.
- Lump-Sum Alimony: As the name suggests, it’s paid as a fixed amount rather than monthly payments.
- Purpose: Such an alimony type is best to settle the support obligation once and for all.
- Duration: No ongoing alimony payments are needed.
What Are the Factors Influencing How Long Alimony Lasts?
Some couples can reach a suitable divorce settlement without getting the court involved. Doing so saves them money, time, and unneeded stress. Plus, it results in better outcomes for both parties.
In this case, only the couple has answers to questions, such as: How much is the alimony, when to pay it, and for how long? Otherwise, it’s up to the court to decide whether to award an alimony.
In the process of making this decision, the court takes many factors into consideration. Some of these factors differ according to state law.
To better understand the situation, take a look at a few of the possible factors.
1. Length of the Marriage
How long the marriage lasted plays a huge role in determining alimony duration. Typically, the longer the marriage was, the longer the alimony period should be.
For example, if a marriage lasted for less than five years, the awarded alimony is approximately half of the marriage’s length. On the other hand, the alimony duration for marriages that lasted between 10–20 years is about 60 to 70 percent of the total marriage length.
As for marriages that lasted for more than 20 years, they’re more likely to receive permanent alimony.
2. Standard of Living During the Marriage
Courts mainly aim to ensure that the recipient spouse can continue to live a similar lifestyle as before the divorce. So, if the couple’s marriage was at a high standard of living, the alimony is likely to be more substantial with a longer duration.
Among the aspects that the court considers to determine the couple’s married lifestyle are:
- The type of housing they lived in.
- The neighborhood.
- Their travel history.
- Their leisure activities as a married couple.
3. Age and Health of Each Spouse
The age and health of both spouses is a major factor in alimony determination. If the spouse with less income is older or in poor health with limited earning potential, the court awards alimony for a longer duration to ensure financial stability post-divorce.
Such cases include:
- Health issues or disabilities that affect a spouse’s ability to work and earn a living.
- An older spouse who’s been out of work for a long time and can no longer compete in the job market.
- A spouse who requires long-term care or assistance due to health issues.
4. Contributions to the Marriage
In addition to all the previous considerations, courts also look into the contributions each spouse made during the marriage. This includes financial as well as non-financial sacrifices.
In many cases, courts award alimony to acknowledge these contributions and help the payee transition post-divorce.
Here are some examples of some contributions worth considering.
- Managing the household
- Paying for the other spouse’s education or training
- Investing time and money into the other spouse’s business venture
- Putting one’s career aspirations on hold for the sake of the other spouse
- Providing emotional support to the spouse during career challenges
5. Child Custody Arrangements
The presence of children and child custody arrangements can affect alimony decisions. This means if one spouse has primary custody and needs financial support to care for the children, it may impact the amount and duration of the alimony.
Many couples going through divorce often ask the question: “How long does alimony last?”
The answer to this question is vital for both the payor and the payee. Yet, it’s one of the complex, case-specific legal aspects of divorce law.
Knowing the amount and duration of alimony depends on multiple factors such as its type, marriage’s length, financial circumstances, contributions made, etc. Overall, the main goal of alimony is to provide financial stability for the less-earning spouse.
In all cases, consulting a knowledgeable attorney is vital to understanding your rights and ensuring fair alimony decisions for both parties.