How long will a spouse have to pay (or be able to receive) alimony?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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Alimony payments are awarded in order for one spouse to provide continued support to the other after the marriage has ended. It is awarded in certain circumstances to ensure that the recipient does not experience a dramatic decline in his or her standard of living as a result of the dissolution of marriage. The length of time that alimony payments must continue to be paid will vary depending on why the alimony is awarded and based on other factors, such as the length of the marriage.

Depending on the particular circumstances, alimony may be awarded on a temporary or permanent/ongoing basis.

  • Temporary alimony is ordered to be paid during the time period that the supported spouse is seeking education, training, and marketable job skills in order to establish a career or otherwise become self-supportive. Consideration of the responsibility for providing child care during the early years of a minor child factors into this determination. In other words, if the recipient of the alimony just needs a bit of time to get into a position that he or she can provide for himself, then temporary alimony will be awarded to give him that time.
  • Permanent alimony may be awarded if the supported spouse is of advanced age or suffers from a medical problem that would prevent this spouse from obtaining a career, thus preventing him/her from becoming self-supportive. Even permanent alimony is subject to future modification based upon a material change in circumstances, however. Permanent alimony will also generally end if the recipient gets remarried.
  • In addition, if there was a long-term marriage (in California, for example, a marriage of ten years or longer is considered a long term marriage), a court may have continuing jurisdiction over the issue of spousal support. With continuing jurisdiction, a court may change the amount or duration of alimony payments from one spouse to the other any time in the future, although a material change in circumstances is usually necessary.

In addition, a court order for alimony typically terminates upon the death or remarriage of the supported spouse. Alimony payments made under pre-2019 divorce agreements are considered to be income for the recipient, which means they are generally taxable. They are also considered a tax-deductible expense for the payor in most situations. However, those rules change starting January 1, 2019 when alimony payments to an ex-spouse will no longer be deductible by the payor and ex-spouses/recipients will no longer have to report the payments as taxable income. 

To get help understanding the rules for alimony and for assistance in determining whether alimony may be awarded in your divorce, you should strongly consider speaking with a divorce lawyer for assistance.

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