Will I Have to Pay Alimony to My Ex Forever?
This is a question many clients will ask themselves at some point during or after a divorce proceeding. Naturally, there are feelings of bitterness in many divorces, and some spouses chafe at the thought of paying spousal support to an ex indefinitely. This page was written to take a closer look at this question as well as some of California’s laws dealing with this issue.
If you’ve been wondering about this question yourself, perhaps it’s time you discuss the matter with a family attorney. Read this article, then give us a call.
Alimony, What the Law Says
One of the key sections of the family code dealing with alimony is found in §4320. This section (and subsequent subsections) requires the court to consider a number of different aspects about each spouses’ earning potential, the economy and other factors. Key among these considerations is subsection (a), which states that the court must consider:
“The extent to which the earning capacity of each party is sufficient to maintain the standard of living established during the marriage…”
As an example of how this might work, it’s helpful to imagine a couple that enjoys a comfortable standard of living when they decide to divorce. During the marriage, theoretically lasting 15 years, the husband makes enough money to support his wife and children, while paying the mortgage on a large home in a nice neighborhood.
The wife never has to work in this scenario, and the family not only has its needs met, but also enjoys some of the finer things in life (vacations, private schools, nice cars, etc.). In this type of divorce situation, the husband could be responsible for alimony payments for the foreseeable future (and beyond). The judge might consider the wife’s education and work experience, as well as her future earning potential.
Compare this well-to-do family with a couple seeking a divorce in which both husband and wife have worked throughout the marriage. During this couple’s five-year marriage, they’ve struggled to make ends meet. When they make the decision to proceed with their divorce, the court might be less inclined to order long-term alimony than in the previous case.
It must be noted that the court has a fair amount of latitude when ruling on alimony. In addition, the court has a number of options for determining the duration of alimony. Keep reading to learn more about potential rulings.
When it Comes to Duration of Alimony, the Judgment’s Wording is Key
Is there specific wording about alimony in your judgement? This is something you might want to review with a family attorney if you’re having questions about how much longer you’ll have to pay alimony. In many cases, a judge will order alimony until one of the following happens:
- Remarriage of the supported spouse.
- Death of either spouse.
- Further order of the court.
In other cases, the judge might order you to pay alimony for an indefinite period of time. Whatever your situation, there might be an opportunity to amend the court’s order. This can be done with the help of a family attorney.
Short Term Marriages, Long Term Marriages, and the Ten-Year Myth
While long-term marriages are treated differently than short term by courts when it comes to alimony, there is a bit of a myth regarding marriages lasting longer than 10 years. Many people falsely believe that once a marriage crosses the magical 10-year mark, one spouse will automatically have to pay the other spouse alimony in perpetuity. Often, people are thinking of Family Code §4336(a), which allows the courts to retain jurisdiction indefinitely in a legal separation “where the marriage is of long duration.”
Typically, courts view marriages lasting longer than 10 years as long-term marriages. However, even unions lasting less than 10 years can be viewed as long term. In those cases, the court can retain jurisdiction over the couple’s separation and monitor things such as alimony indefinitely.
However, the law is clear regarding short- term marriages when alimony is ordered. The law states that the goal of alimony in short-term marriages is that the supported spouse shall be self supporting within a reasonable period of time—generally, half the length of the marriage.
That said, the court takes a different view on long-term marriages and alimony. This doesn’t necessarily mean a person will have to support his or her former spouse indefinitely.
Reasons for Modifying an Alimony Order
Just because a person has been paying alimony following a long-term marriage doesn’t mean the court won’t modify or terminate the agreement. There are a number of reasons why a modification might be ordered. These include:
- The supported spouse finding work or receiving an increase in income.
- The supported spouse receiving support as the result of co-habitation with a new partner.
- The supporting spouse loses a job or experiences a decrease in income.
- The supporting spouse suddenly experiences an increase in expenses.
These aren’t the only possible reasons for modification of an order. If you believe you are entitled to a modification of an alimony order, call a family attorney to discuss your options.
A Word About Gavron Warnings
A Gavron warning is an order issued by a court to a supported spouse stating that they are expected to become self supporting. It takes its name from a famous court case. For more information on Gavron warnings, visit our blog page.
Have Questions? Contact a Family Attorney
If this page hasn’t fully answered your questions about alimony, it might be time to discuss your issue with a family attorney. As this page has hopefully demonstrated, there are many nuances involved in family law and the topic of alimony. Sometimes it takes a skilled legal mind to sort through the details.
Don’t hesitate to contact our office if you have question about alimony or some other family law topic.