How Long Does Spousal Support Last in California?

Hossein Berenji, Jul 15, 2021

Spousal support in California ends when a court order ends the payments. Support payments also end when one of the individuals dies. Likewise, if the person receiving spousal support gets remarried or registers a new domestic partnership, spousal support should end.

The length of spousal support payments depends on numerous factors. Some individuals may be ordered to pay temporary spousal support when a divorce case is pending. The temporary spousal support may become permanent or long-term spousal support when the court issues a final order.

The Ten-Year Rule for Spousal Support

The length of your marriage is an essential factor in how long spousal support payments continue.

Generally, if a couple is married less than ten years, the duration of spousal support payments is one-half of the duration of the marriage. Therefore, if you were married for eight years, you will pay spousal support for four years.

However, the judge has discretion to order a longer or shorter duration for the payments.

Couples who are married for more than ten years are considered to have a long-term marriage. In these cases, judges are not permitted to set an end date for support payments. Therefore, other factors determine when spousal support payments end.

Marital Agreements and Spousal Support

Prenuptial agreements and post-nuptial agreements may set the amount and duration of spousal support payments. If the marital agreement is valid, the court should uphold the terms of the agreement.

For example, let’s assume a couple is in a long-term marriage. However, the marital agreement calls for short-term or lump sum alimony. Therefore, the court should enforce the agreement, even though the spouse could have received permanent alimony payments if they did not enter the marital agreement.

Negotiating Spousal Support Payments

A couple may come to an agreement as to the duration and amount of spousal support payments. In these cases, the spouses agree to the terms for alimony payments. The couple may use a mediator or family law facilitator to help negotiate spousal support payments.

Litigating Spousal Support

If a couple has no marital agreement and cannot agree to the terms of spousal support, the court will decide the terms. As stated above, the length of the marriage is a significant factor in how long spousal support payments last in California.

Temporary spousal support is often calculated based on a formula. You can read about the formula by accessing the Family Court Rules for the county where your case is filed.

Other factors the court considers when deciding a spousal support case include:

  • The age and health of each spouse
  • The needs of each person based on the standard of living they enjoyed during the marriage
  • Whether there are allegations of domestic violence
  • The individual and joint property and debts of the couple
  • What each person can afford to pay to maintain the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage
  • The contributions of one spouse to the other spouse obtaining training, education, or a professional license
  • The state and federal tax impact of spousal support
  • If obtaining a job would make it too difficult for a parent to care for the parent’s children
  • Whether one spouse’s career was impacted by the need to take care of the couple’s children or home or impacted by unemployment
  • The marketable skills and the job market for those skills of the spouse that is receiving support payments
  • The time and expense a spouse will need to obtain training and education to get a job

The judge may consider other relevant factors if they directly impact the question of spousal support.

What Happens When I Retire?

When you reach retirement age, you are entitled to retire. Your spouse cannot force you to continue working just to pay spousal support payments. When you retire or if you are forced to take early retirement, you can petition the court to stop spousal support payments.

Modifications of Spousal Support

Circumstances may change after the judge orders spousal support. Either spouse can petition for a modification of support payments. However, you must show a change in circumstances that would warrant modifying alimony payments.

Changes in circumstances could include:

  • Disability or serious illness
  • Unemployment
  • Permanent decrease in income
  • Cohabitation with a partner by the person receiving support payments

It is important to remember that you still owe the spousal support payments until you receive an order from the court changing the amount of your payments.