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Length of Permanent Spousal Support

When most people think about spousal support, they think of support payable after a divorce is final. We refer to this as “permanent” spousal support. However, sometimes this support can be anything but permanent.

Permanent spousal support awards can be granted for varying lengths of time. Pursuant to Family Code section 4330, the court may order a party to pay an amount for the support of the other party for a period of time that is just and reasonable, based on the standard of living established during the marriage, and the factors delineated in Family Code section 4320.

Generally, in marriages lasting less than ten (10) the court considers a “just and reasonable period of time” to be one-half the length of the marriage. However, the court still has the discretion to order support for a greater or lesser length of time, based on the factors delineated in section 4320 and the individual circumstances of the parties. The court may also admonish the supported party to make reasonable efforts in becoming self-supporting in a reasonable period of time – something we can a Gavron warning.

However, the length of spousal support is often different when it comes to marriages of over ten (10) years. Family Code section 4336 indicates that the court retains jurisdiction over the issue of spousal support indefinitely if the marriage was of long duration, unless there is a written agreement to the contrary or spousal support has been terminated. This means that that the court has the ability to continue making decisions regarding spousal support until the death of either party or remarriage of the supported party.

What is a “long-term marriage”? There is a presumption that a marriage that lasted for 10 years or more is a marriage of long duration. The court can consider periods of separation during the marriage in determining whether the marriage is of long duration. At the same time, the court may also determine that a marriage of less than 10 years is a marriage of long duration depending on the circumstances. Nonetheless, if the court applies the presumption, then it orders the spousal support award to last indefinitely.

The court may terminate these “indefinite” spousal support orders in later proceedings on a showing of changed circumstances by the supporting party. These “changed circumstances” can be the result of a change in the supporting party’s ability to pay, such as retirement or the loss of a job. Another changed circumstance is outlined in Family Code section 4323, which states that there is a rebuttable presumption of decreased need for spousal support if the supported party is cohabitating with a non-marital partner. Another possible “change in circumstances” may be that the supported party now has enough money on his/her own, whether through income from employment or the size of his or her estate, to sustain his or her needs without support.

It is important to realize that spousal support orders can evolve over time and vary in length, even if the original award was for permanent or “indefinite” spousal support. To learn more about spousal support as it relates to your circumstances, contact the experienced family law team at Bremer Whyte Brown & O’Meara, LLP.