Permanent Alimony

Permanent alimony is the most common form of alimony. It provides for regular monthly payments to the recipient spouse by the paying spouse. It will generally terminate when the recipient spouse dies or remarries. If the recipient spouse receives some large amounts of money alleviating the need for support, the court can terminate the order or reduce the amount of permanent alimony.

If there is a change in the circumstances, either spouse can apply to the court for modification of the child support order. Sudden medical emergencies or illness, loss of job, significant change in the income etc are considered as change in the circumstances to warrant a modification of permanent alimony. Please check with your state laws for the exact grounds for seeking modification of an order for permanent alimony.

Duration of Spousal Support

Generally, the duration of spousal support will be half the length of the marriage in case the marriage is less than 10 years long subject to state laws and individual circumstances of the parties. In marriages over 10 years, the alimony will continue until the recipient spouse dies or remarries. The paying spouse can however make an application at anytime seeking to terminate alimony. The paying spouse must prove that the circumstances of the recipient spouse have changed and the recipient no longer requires support.

The courts generally set the duration of alimony using certain established principles and guidelines. Towards the latter half of the 1990’s the duration of alimony was for the transition period required for the recipient to adjust from married life to life as a single. Courts generally do not award lifetime alimony. The exact duration will depend on the circumstances of each individual case. The policy of awarding lifetime support has been replaced with a policy for awarding support for the duration required by the recipient to be self supporting.

Factors Influencing the Court’s Decision

The court will consider many factors when determining the issue of alimony. In many states the law clearly prescribes the guidelines to be followed and factors to be considered when deciding alimony. Please check with your state laws. Generally, the following factors will be considered by the court:

• The earning capacity of the spouses, the education qualifications, professional skills and the extent to which the ability to earn is affected by period of unemployed incurred as a result of the marriage.

• The tangible and intangible contribution made by one spouse towards the professional or educational progress of the other.

• The ability to pay alimony.

• The need to maintain the standard of living the parties enjoyed during the marriage.

• The income, debts and assets of the parties.

• The length of the marriage.

• The ability of the parties to get gainful employment without undue hindrance to the interest of the children in their custody.

• The age and health condition of the parties.

• Any past violent behavior of the parties towards one another.

• Any other factor which the court finds is important to the determination.

The Mythical 10 year rule

Under California Family Code, the court will retain jurisdiction indefinitely after the divorce if granted in case of a long term marriage. This means that the court can continuing passing orders that can affect the rights of the parties and can revaluate or review and modify its original order if the circumstances warrant a modification. Generally a marriage of over 10 years is considered a marriage of long duration. Sometimes a marriage of less than 10 years can also be considered as a marriage of long duration.

Here’s an example:

Stacey and Paul were married for 6 years until they got divorce last month. Paul has been ordered to pay $1000 every month to Stacey for three years. The judgment also terminates the court’s jurisdiction after 3 years. So, if Stacey loses her job or is unable to work because of her health condition in the three years immediately after the divorce, the court can modify the order and increase the monthly payments that Paul must make. However once the three years are over, the court cannot modify the support order as the court will no longer have jurisdiction. Now let’s assume that instead of 6 years, Stacey and Paul were married for 14 years and the court orders Paul to pay $1000 every month for 7 years. However since the marriage is over 10 years, it is considered a long term marriage and the court will continue to have jurisdiction to modify the support order – the court will retain jurisdiction indefinitely until Stacey expires or remarries. So, even if Stacey lost her job just one month before the expiry of 7 years, she can ask the court to extend the term of alimony.

In the above example, when the marriage was less than 10 years, the duration of alimony was half the duration of the marriage. However the court is not bound to stick to this rule. The court will consider many other factors including the age & health condition of the parties, the earning capacity of the parties, the ability to pay alimony, etc.

There is no 10 year rule that requires support to be paid indefinitely in case of a marriage over 10 years. However the court may retain jurisdiction indefinitely in such cases.

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