How Long Will I Have to Pay Spousal Support in California?

Spousal support, or “alimony” as it is often called, is a frequently negotiated and/or litigated aspect of divorce in California. And while you (or your friends and family) may immediately say, “hey, I don’t have to pay spousal support because _____”, let’s get a few misconceptions out of the way:

  • There is no minimum length of marriage for spousal support to be paid
  • It doesn’t matter whether you have children or not with your spouse (child support is an entirely separate matter from spousal support)
  • Any person might be required to pay spousal support to the other, e.g. wife pays to husband; husband pays to wife; wife pays to wife; and so on
  • Just because you’re not working at the time of the divorce (or plan to not work temporarily) does not necessarily mean you won’t be ordered to pay support

With those misconceptions (and plenty more abound) out of the way, there will be two main questions when setting spousal support: 1) how much will be paid?, and 2) for how long? We focus on the second question here.

Settling on Spousal Support vs. Going to Trial

As with all aspects of a California divorce, you are either going to have to reach a settlement agreement on how long spousal support will be paid or have a judge make that decision for you at a divorce trial. There can be a bit of an overlap here, as sometimes parties only reach a settlement after they’ve been in front of a judge on a temporary hearing or have gone through other litigation processes in advance of trial, e.g. demanding that the other side produce financial documents.

In a settlement agreement, the parties are generally free to agree on any length of spousal support they would like, including having no spousal support at all. But knowing how a judge would actually set spousal support should of course impact and guide that negotiation, which leads us to the next point…

California Law on Spousal Support

Very basically, California law will always look at the duration of the marriage itself in setting the duration of spousal support. If the marriage lasted 10 years or longer, it will be considered a marriage of long duration, and as such the court will retain indefinite jurisdiction over spousal support unless the parties explicitly agree otherwise. While this does not mean the court will award spousal support forever, it may mean that the court does award support to be paid indefinitely, which can mean until one of the parties comes back to request a modification or termination. More on spousal support in marriages of long duration can be found here.

For more marriages under 10 years, the general rule judges will apply is to award spousal support for half the length of marriage, measured from the time of the marriage to the time the parties separated. While judges have discretion in setting this, it is fairly common practice for this half-the-length-of-the-marriage duration to apply.

When a Receiving Party Remarries or Dies

Under Family Code section 4337, spousal support will terminate when the receiving party remarries or dies, or if the paying party dies. Many settlement agreements also contain this language, although it is possible for a paying party to agree to pay spousal support even after remarriage of the other party. Furthermore, parties may agree to have the paying party take out an insurance policy to provide for the supported party if the paying party should die before the duration of spousal support runs its course. Courts frequently require an insurance policy to secure support.

Modifying Spousal Support

After a divorce is finalized, either party may seek to have spousal support changed (modified upwards of downwards) or terminated altogether if there have been significant changes of circumstances for either party since the original order was made. Or, the parties can agree to a change in support levels. A settlement agreement, however, may contain language which limits the ability of either party to seek such a modification or termination.

Guidance on Your California Spousal Support Questions From a Westlake Village Family Law Attorney

If you would like to learn more about how our office can provide guidance on your spousal support issues or any other California family law issues you are facing in Ventura County or Los Angeles County, contact the Zonder Family Law Group office today at (805) 777-7740 or (818) 877-0001, or schedule your strategy session using easy-to-use online form here.