How Long Do I Have to Pay Spousal Support?

One of the major concerns a divorcing person will have is spousal support. If a divorcee expects to pay spousal support, he or she will likely want to know exactly how long he or she must continue payments, and a recipient will want to be sure of his or her rights. Unfortunately, there is no firm way to estimate how long spousal support payments will continue for a given case.

Spousal support determinations typically hinge on state laws and individual aspects of a divorce. It is crucial for any divorcing couple to have reasonable and realistic expectations of what a spousal support arrangement will look like after divorce, and a divorce attorney can be helpful in this regard.

The Nature of Spousal Support

The court considers spousal support as “rehabilitative” financial support. This means the ultimate goal of spousal support is to help the recipient financially recover from the economic effects of divorce, such as finding a new place to live and adjusting back to a single income instead of shared income. The nature of rehabilitative financial support is to help the recipient reach the point where he or she no longer needs financial assistance, so a recipient should not expect spousal support to be a permanent right.

Most divorce agreements will stipulate the nature of spousal support payments including the amount, timeline for payments, and the time frame for payments to continue. If the divorce agreement does not explicitly state when spousal support payments end, then they will continue indefinitely or until the payer successfully petitions to have his or her payment obligation end. In California, Family Code Section 4320 outlines the requirements for a spousal support arrangement and covers the factors that go into a spousal support determination.

What Influences Spousal Support Obligations?

The first point of reference a judge will likely use to determine spousal support is the income of the recipient compared to the income of the payer. The spousal support payment amount should reflect the amount the lower-earning spouse will need to re-establish life as a single person.

However, some other factors may lead a judge to require indefinite support. For example, if the recipient is elderly and in need of constant medical care, it is unlikely he or she could manage living expenses without spousal support. Similarly, if the recipient is too old to rejoin the workforce after relying upon his or her spouse’s income for years, the judge may refer to this as grounds for indefinite support.

A spousal support agreement will likely include several stipulations for when support payments will reduce or terminate. For example, if the recipient starts living with another person or remarries, the judge reviewing the case will likely terminate or reduce spousal support proportionately. Additionally, a spousal support arrangement will often include a warning that informs the recipient as to the date when he or she should have achieved self-sufficiency and no longer require spousal support.

How an Attorney Can Help

Anyone who expects a divorce in the near future needs legal representation. It is essential for each party to have reliable legal representation to ensure a reasonable and equitable divorce settlement for all parties involved. If one spouse is to pay spousal support to the other, he or she will likely want assurance that the terms of the support arrangement will be fair and reasonable. The recipient will want to ensure that he or she receives an appropriate amount of support for a reasonable time.

Divorce attorneys can help parse individual concerns in a divorce negotiation to ensure equitable results for their clients. Spousal support can help recipients reach self-sufficiency eventually, but it is important for spousal support recipients to realize that these payments only continue indefinitely under very specific circumstances.