How Long Does Spousal Support Last?

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If you have found yourself undergoing a divorce, you may be wondering about the details of spousal support. Spousal support (sometimes referred to as “alimony”) has a complex history and a very individualized application. Several factors go into determining how spousal support will typically be ordered. One of the questions that many people have when their divorce includes such an order is: how long does spousal support last?

In this article, we’ll go over some details of spousal support and how it is typically ordered as well as how long most spousal support orders last.

The History of Spousal Support

Initially referred to as “alimony,” spousal support finds its roots in the Latin word alimonia, which means “nourishment” or “sustenance.” It is in this root that we can see the initial purpose of spousal support payments. The practice of spousal support following a divorce has a very long history indeed. Even the Code of Hammurabi, which dates back to 1754 BCE, made mention of a man’s responsibility to provide “sustenance” to a woman who has borne his children. The modern-day concept of spousal support has more contemporary roots and comes out of English courts that awarded alimony payments in the case of a separation or divorce.

Traditionally, spousal support payments have been awarded to women because men have typically been the breadwinners of their households. This, however, is not always the case and since the 1979 Supreme Court case Orr vs. Orr, gender bias in alimony support has been forbidden. Be that as it may, the majority of spousal support orders are still granted to women. As Forbes reports, even though 40 percent of U.S. households were headed by female breadwinners, just 3% of those receiving spousal support payments in 2014 were men. While some of the disparity has been attributed to gender bias in the courts, many attribute the mismatch to ingrained gender roles that leave men less likely to seek or accept spousal support in the first place. Two divorce attorneys explained to Forbes that “very few men walk into their offices with the intent of asking for alimony, even when their situations are clearly eligible for spousal support.”

Spousal Support as a Lifelong Requirement

As a historical practice, spousal support was typically a lifelong requirement. The idea was that a man was responsible for the sustenance of the woman for the rest of her life, and spousal support took on that tradition. Modern-day work practices, however, showed that these traditional expectations no longer fit contemporary realities, and advocates began to question the lifelong nature of spousal support payments.

One of those advocates, Raymond Posa, explained that things had changed. “The theory behind this was fine back in the ’50s, when everybody was a housewife and stayed home,” he explained but insisted that things were different now. “It’s like you’re incapable of getting on your own two feet, and you need to depend on this person for the rest of your life?” Throughout the early 2000s, advocacy across the country drew attention to the outdated nature of spousal support rulings and created shifts in how it would be awarded going forward.

How Long Does Spousal Support Last Today?

Now that the advocacy to change spousal support has picked up steam, things may be fairer, but they are also more complicated. There are several factors that go into determining the length of a modern-day spousal support order. These factors include how long the marriage lasted — anything under 10 years is typically considered “short-term” while marriages over 10 years are often considered “long-term.” Other factors include the spouse’s ability to make a living, existing financial assets, previous work history, educational achievements, and occupational skills.

Because these factors are often complex and individual, courts can also use them to determine if someone is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed — that is choosing not to take a job or to take one at a lower salary than they could get in order to continue receiving spousal support.

What this means is that the determination of both the amount of spousal support and its duration is a matter of negotiation. Some orders of spousal support last as little as a year while others can extend for a decade or more. To make matters even more complicated, the circumstances surrounding the determination of spousal support amount and duration are not stable. Employment and earning potential can change, and often spouses go on to remarry, which further changes their income and assets. In these cases, spousal support can be altered to match the new circumstances.

If you are going through a divorce and are finding yourself asking how long does spousal support last, it is in your best interest to contact a divorce attorney as soon as possible. The answers to those questions are complex and will likely be determined by a sophisticated negotiation process. When that process takes place, you want to make sure you have a qualified divorce attorney by your side. Contact us right away for a consultation.


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