Will My Wife Get Alimony for Life? Do I Have to Support Her Forever?

By | March 21, 2017

A lot of men who earn sizable incomes are worried that they will be stuck paying alimony (also known as spousal support) to their former wife. How long does alimony last? Do you have to pay alimony for life? Does the law permit her to just sit back with her feet up and get a monthly check? That’s not fair! This blog article will closely look at California’s laws concerning spousal support orders.

If you continue reading, we’ll break down some myths about alimony and explain different circumstances that determine the length of an alimony order and how it may be legally ended. Of course, this article should not be taken as legal advice but for your knowledge. If you have serious concerns about your spousal support order or a pending case, talk to our experienced family law attorney for a consultation of your specific situation. We’ve also written a main page on spousal support which will lay down the foundation of this area of law.


Some Alimony Myths

There are a few common misconceptions about spousal support that make a divorcing person cringe. To be misinformed about how California family courts make orders for alimony can cause you to unnecessarily stress out about the divorce process and how much you might lose once the orders are in place. Let’s talk about a few of the common myths about alimony:

Myth #1: You’ll have to pay your wife alimony for one-half of the length of your marriage 

You may have heard that if you’ve been married for 10 years, then you’ll have to pay alimony for 5 years. If you’ve been married for 50 years, you’ll have to pay alimony for 25 years. This is completely false, as there is no California law that says that this is a rule. There are several other factors involved in determining the amount and length of spousal support, not just how long the two of you have been married.

Myth #2: Your wife cheated, so you won’t have to pay alimony

Here is one fact that completely throws this myth out the window: California is a no-fault divorce state. This means that even if your wife cheated and ruined the marriage, it won’t be taken into consideration to decide on alimony orders or anything else in the divorce, for that matter. Alimony orders are based on several factors, including:

  • How long the couple was married
  • Ages of the spouses, their physical, emotional and mental health
  • Each person’s income earning capacity

There are more factors that a judge considers, you can read about them here on our Spousal Support and Alimony Page.

Myth #3: When a judge makes an order for spousal support, there is no way to change it

A judge is also a human being and errors might be made or fraud may have occurred as a result of a spouse’s deceptive reporting. That is why there is opportunity for spousal support orders to be modified, unless the spouses agree that the alimony order will be non-modifiable. Reasons that someone might want to modify spousal support can be things like job layoffs, promotions, loss of income, change of child custody arrangements, or possibly even an inheritance received by the supported spouse. Life happens and circumstances change, which makes a reasonable foundation for modification of the alimony order.

Alimony for Life? Will I Have to Pay Spousal Support Forever?The 10-year Rule; It’s a Lie

Another huge misconception is that there is a 10-year rule. What is it? Basically, some people have “heard” that if you’ve been married for 10 or more years, then you’ll get alimony for life. That is completely false and you should not expect to be receiving alimony forever nor pay it for life. In California, a marriage of long duration gives the court jurisdiction indefinitely even after a divorce is completed. Unless the spouses agree otherwise, the court will be able to continue making decisions about matters dealing with the divorce orders including spousal support. The only 10-year rule that applies here is that if you’ve been married for at least 10 years, it would be considered “long duration”[1].

What If She Remains Unemployed? Do I Have to Continue Paying Until She Gets a Job?

The main purpose of spousal support is to make sure that a spouse doesn’t all of a sudden fall into despairing circumstances because of a divorce. The order for alimony is to make it possible for a spouse to continue living a lifestyle that is as close as possible to the standards of when the couple was still married. That being said, a judge expects that the supported spouse will actively seek employment to become self-supporting in a reasonable amount of time.

The fact that your income as compared to your wife’s is a factor in determining a spousal support order makes it seem likely that you would have to continue paying your unemployed ex-wife. But, when a reasonable amount of time has passed since the divorce, you can put in an alimony modification request. Even if she was a homemaker, or a stay-at-home-mom, for the duration of the marriage, she is still expected to be able to find a job after the divorce. When requesting a modification, you can ask the family law court for a vocational evaluation of the ex-wife. After all, she is your ex now; you shouldn’t have to continue supporting her if she chooses not to become employed.

A vocational evaluation request will help a judge correctly modify the alimony order based on her ability, opportunity, and capacity to work… even when she refuses to find employment.

What Happens if My Circumstances Change and I Can’t Afford to Pay Alimony Anymore?

If your circumstances change, it is proper grounds for requesting a modification. Though it is rare that an alimony order is terminated because of this, you may receive an order to reduce the amount of spousal support that you would have to pay. You may request this reduction immediately after your change in income, or you can wait a short period of time to see if you are able to regain that income.

What Can Legally Terminate My Obligations to Pay Spousal Support?

When an alimony order has been made, modification is an option. It’s not always possible to terminate an order, but here are some situations in which spousal support can legally be stopped. To learn more about stopping indefinite spousal support, check out our Ending Spousal Support page.

  • When there are no children involved and the supported spouse has acquired a separate estate which includes employment income, that allows her to support herself Family Code 4322
  • The supported spouse has separate property that produces enough income to provide a good livable income
  • There is community property that produces enough income to sufficiently support the ex-wife
  • The wife is in a relationship with someone else that contributes to her expenses. You may use this as grounds to reduce the spousal support amount or seek elimination of alimony
  • The supported ex-spouse refuses to find work to support herself

Would I Have to Pay Alimony for Life to Support My Ex-Wife When I’ve Already Supported Her for So Long?

Once again, this comes back to whether your ex-wife is able to be self-supporting or not. It’s not predetermined that you have to continue paying alimony for life, but the same factors will be considered for modification or elimination. The continued length of time you have to pay spousal support depends on current circumstances when you are seeking to modify or eliminate the spousal support. The more time that has passed since the divorce, the less marital standards of living will be a determining factor. The judge will review your ex-wife’s needs for support, your own ability to continue paying spousal support, and how much effort your former wife is making to support herself (i.e. finding employment). Of course, if either of your relationship status changes, it is also sufficient grounds for modification or elimination.

Would I have to Pay Alimony Even If I Have Full Custody of Our Children?

California Family Law Code 4321(b) says:

“In a judgment of dissolution of marriage or legal separation of the parties, the court may deny support to a party out of the separate property of the other party in any of the following circumstances…: …(b) The custody of the children has been awarded to the other party, who is supporting them.”

The family court judge may not order support for your ex-wife if you have full custody of the children and are the one providing for them. The word ‘may’ is important here. It’s not an absolute outcome if you are awarded full custody of the children, but your ex-spouse is likely to have less reason to require you to continue to support her. It all depends on the real facts of your real-life situation though. It’s smart to talk to a family lawyer about the specifics of your case, dealing with spousal support issues.

If My Ex-Wife Had Been Abusive Towards Me in the Marriage, Will I Still Need to Pay Alimony?

Another huge reason for not wanting to pay spousal support is if your ex-wife has a history of domestic violence towards you or your children. Of course you wouldn’t want to financially support someone who has been abusive. When domestic violence is a factor in an alimony court case, the ruling is likely to made in your favor. After all, it is already listed as a determining factor in Family Law Code § 4320. If your ex-wife has been convicted of domestic violence, that means that it’s been reported, documented, and she is found guilty of it, then you’re covered by Family Law Code 4325 which says:

(a) In any proceeding for dissolution of marriage where there is a criminal conviction for an act of domestic violence perpetrated by one spouse against the other spouse entered by the court within five years prior to the filing of the dissolution proceeding, or at any time thereafter, there shall be a rebuttable presumption affecting the burden of proof that any award of temporary or permanent spousal support to the abusive spouse otherwise awardable pursuant to the standards of this part should not be made.

(b) The court may consider documented evidence of a convicted spouse’s history as a victim of domestic violence, as defined in Section 6211, perpetrated by the other spouse, or any other factors the court deems just and equitable, as conditions for rebutting this presumption.

(c) The rebuttable presumption created in this section may be rebutted by a preponderance of the evidence.

If she has been convicted of domestic violence towards you in the marriage, within the last 5 years, no amount of spousal support is to be made, whether temporary or permanent.

Finances are complex subjects for married couples, it is even more so when the couple is divorced. Spousal support isn’t a clear-cut issue to judge in court and you would definitely need someone experienced with extensive legal knowledge about the subject. The things you’ve read in this article may be helpful, but talking to an experienced family lawyer will get you started on the right path. Don’t try to figure this out on your own and don’t believe the lies about having to pay alimony for life.

[1] California Family Law Code § 4336(b)

One thought on “Will My Wife Get Alimony for Life? Do I Have to Support Her Forever?

  1. alain smithee

    My frustration is with ‘chivalrous’ family court judges who inflate ‘child support’ awards to the point that they include hidden alimony.

    When I protested that I was being ordered to pay half of my net income as ‘child support’, my family court judge told me that “your [voluntarily unemployed and unfaithful ex-]wife (NOT our children) deserves that money”.

    I am more than willing to share the responsibility for providing for my children’s needs, but I object to being required to provide a government mandated lifestyle for my ex-wife and her …paramour in the process.

    And my family court judge (Her Honor-sarcasm intended) wonders why I have become a political gadfly who has identified legal flaws in my state’s child support guideline, including the state’s failing to abide by 42 US Code 654(21)(a) in order to increase the kickbacks that the state receives under the Child Support Performance and Incentive Act.

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