Alimony, also known as spousal support, is the financial assistance and support paid by one spouse to another spouse during and after a divorce. Typically, the spouse with the higher income pays support payments to the spouse with the lower income. The intent is to give a spouse sufficient time to support themselves after a divorce.

California law does not set a minimum duration for the length of marriage before the court can grant spousal support. However, the length of the marriage can impact the duration of alimony payments.

California’s Ten-Year Rule for Alimony Payments 

When a spouse requests spousal support, the judge must find a need for spousal support and the ability to pay the support payments. 

If the marriage lasts less than 10 years, it is considered a “short-term” marriage. The duration of spousal support payments for a short-term marriage is one-half the length of the marriage. Therefore, alimony payments would continue for up to 4.5 years if you were married for nine years.

However, judges have the discretion to lengthen or shorten alimony payments for short-term marriages. The judge may consider numerous factors besides how long the parties were married.

Marriages lasting more than 10 years are considered “long-term” marriages. There is no presumption for the duration of spousal payments for a long-term marriage. If a judge finds grounds for continued alimony payments, the payments could continue for life or until the person remarries or the court terminates the support payments. 

How Do Prenuptial Agreements Impact the Duration of Spousal Support? 

Many couples use marital agreements to decide the terms of a divorce should they wish to dissolve the marriage in the future. Prenuptial agreements and postnuptial agreements can include terms setting the amount and duration of alimony payments. Provided the marital agreement is legal, the judge should uphold the agreement between the parties for alimony payments. 

However, a spouse might contest the marital agreement on several grounds. The spouse might allege they were coerced or tricked into signing the agreement. A spouse might also argue the terms of the agreement are unconscionable given the facts of the case.

If the judge voids the terms of the marital agreement, the parties could mediate the issue to negotiate a spousal support agreement. However, the matter would go to trial if the parties cannot agree to alimony terms.

What Factors Do Judges Consider When Deciding Alimony Cases?

If a couple has no marital agreement or the agreement is invalid, the court decides the duration and amount of alimony based on numerous factors. In addition to the duration of the marriage, other factors a judge considers when deciding an alimony dispute include:

  • The standard of living enjoyed during the marriage
  • The ability of each person to afford to pay to maintain the standard of living
  • The health and ages of each spouse
  • The special needs of either spouse
  • Each spouse’s separate assets, resources, and debts
  • The marital property subject to division
  • A spouse’s contributions to the career, education, training, and professional growth of the other spouse
  • Which parent has custody and care of the minor children
  • If a spouse gave up their career to care for the couple’s home and children and the negative impacts of putting their career on hold
  • A spouse’s marketable skills and experience and the likelihood of obtaining a job without further training and education
  • The expense and time it would take for a spouse to obtain the education, skills, training, and professional licenses to get a job
  • The federal and tax implications for each spouse

Judges can consider other factors they deem just and relevant when deciding alimony cases. Depending on the complexity of the case, parties might hire expert witnesses to testify on their behalf, including accountants, career professionals, and financial experts. 

Can I Modify Spousal Support Payments?

Regardless of the duration or amount of alimony payments, either person can petition the court for a judgment modification. However, the petitioning party has the burden of proving circumstances have changed that justify modifying alimony payments.

Examples of changes in circumstances that could warrant modifying spousal support payments include, but are not limited to:

  • A permanent decrease in income 
  • Developing a serious illness or disability
  • An accidental injury that requires a lengthy recovery period 
  • Unintentional unemployment 
  • The person receiving support payments now lives with a romantic partner

If you petition the court to modify payments, you must continue making payments until the court issues an order modifying or stopping payments. Failing to pay alimony can result in severe penalties.

Understanding your legal rights regarding spousal support can be complex. During a complimentary consultation with a San Diego spousal support lawyer, you can learn about your legal options and the steps to take to protect your right to fair alimony payments. 

Contact Our Spousal Support Law Firm in San Diego, CA

Contact our experienced San Diego spousal support lawyers at San Diego Divorce Lawyers, APC today for legal assistance. Contact our San Diego office at (619) 866-3756 to schedule a free consultation.

San Diego Divorce Lawyers, APC
2851 Camino del Rio S #430
San Diego, CA 92108