Does the Length of Your Marriage Affect Your Eligibility for Spousal Support?
Though it’s less common than it used to be, alimony or spousal support/maintenance may still be available as an element of a divorce decree. The rules governing alimony vary from state to state, though, with respect to both the types of alimony granted and the factors a court considers to determine whether spousal support is warranted, how much should be paid, and the duration of payments.
What Is Alimony/Spousal Support/Spousal Maintenance?
As a general rule, alimony is a periodic payment made by one spouse to the other pursuant to a divorce judgment. The function of alimony is primarily to ensure that both parties continue to live a lifestyle similar or close to what they were accustomed to during the marriage, particularly when one party was the financial provider and the other did not work outside of the home.
Though the parties can agree whether one will pay alimony, and the amount, it’s more common for the court to resolve issues related to alimony. The party seeking alimony must affirmatively request it as part of the divorce—alimony is never granted automatically.
What Are the Different Types of Alimony or Spousal Support?
Though every state has its own approach to alimony, there are types of spousal support that are common to most, if not all, jurisdictions:
- Temporary alimony—This term generally refers to alimony that must be paid while the divorce is still pending. Referred to legally as “alimony pendente lite” (“pending the suit”), it is customarily replaced in the final divorce decree by some other form of spousal support.
- Permanent alimony—As the name suggests, this is an order for spousal support that typically lasts for the life of the recipient or the payor. As a general rule, though, even permanent alimony is terminated if the receiving spouse remarries or cohabitates in an intimate relationship.
- Rehabilitative alimony—The goal of rehabilitative alimony is to help a receiving spouse maintain the marital lifestyle until they become self-sufficient. As society has changed, and more women have entered the workplace, courts increasingly end alimony payments after a specific period of time when the payor demonstrates that the recipient can meet their own needs.
- Reimbursement alimony—The purpose of reimbursement alimony is to compensate the receiving spouse for expenses paid during the marriage for the benefit of the paying spouse. A common example is when one spouse works and supports the family while the other spouse gets training or education to prepare for a career.
As a general rule, alimony is paid periodically—weekly, bimonthly, or monthly. However, the parties can agree to a lump-sum payment of alimony.
What Factors Does the Court Consider When Determining Eligibility for Alimony?
Though the specific criteria vary from state to state, common considerations include:
- Length of the marriage
- Age and health of the parties
- Financial resources of each party, including assets and income
- Education and prospective job skills of each party
- Employment history and earning ability of each party
- Extent to which either of the parties wrongfully dissipated marital assets
- Contribution of one party to the earning capacity of the other
- Property either party brought into the marriage
- Evidence of marital misconduct by either party
- Need of one party to stay at home to care for minor children
- Need of the recipient vs. the ability of the other party to make payments
How Long Must You Be Married to Get Alimony?
The required duration of the marriage for purposes of alimony varies from state to state, and is just one of multiple factors, but here are some examples:
- In Texas, a person qualifies for spousal maintenance (the legal term in the Lone Star State) if the marriage lasted at least 10 years and the receiving spouse is unable to earn enough to meet their basic needs. If the marriage was shorter than ten years, no alimony will be ordered except in cases where there was domestic violence or where a spouse or child has a mental or physical disability.
- In California, though the guideline for alimony is a marriage of “long duration,” courts routinely limit permanent alimony to situations where the parties were married at least 10 years. For marriages that didn’t last that long, the common practice in California is to order spousal support for half the length of the marriage—a person married eight years would be eligible for four years of spousal support.
- In Alabama, there’s no set threshold for eligibility for alimony, but the longer the parties are married, the greater the likelihood that alimony will be awarded.
Though it’s less common for a court to order alimony than it was a generation or two ago, a party can still ask the court for spousal support. The specific criteria for eligibility varies from state to state, but a common factor courts consider is the length of the marriage, with some requiring a specific term of years and others simply more inclined to grant alimony when the marriage lasted longer.