Can Spousal Support Be Permanent?

Many issues must be settled between you and your spouse before you finalize your divorce. One such issue involves spousal support. 

This type of support involves one spouse making payments to the other following a divorce to help them acclimate to their financial life after marriage. Although spousal support isn't part of every divorce settlement, it's an important issue for many couples. 

If one spouse's income exceeds the other spouse's income by a considerable amount, a judge may order spousal support. This money may be provided in a lump sum or as monthly payments. (Note: A lump sum is sometimes called an “alimony buyout.” See the list of terms at the end of this article.)

The amount and duration of spousal support are based on the type of spousal support that is warranted. 

How spousal support is determined

Standard of living

One of the main eligibility factors for spousal support is your standard of living. 

If a judge finds that you cannot maintain your standard of living after divorce, you may qualify for spousal support. The court will look at your income and your spouse's income to make sure spousal support is necessary. 

Additional considerations used to identify a monetary amount include the following:

  • The resources each party has
  • The amount of money each party brings in
  • How long the marriage lasted 

Length of marriage

In some states, like California, the length of your marriage determines how long your spousal support may last.

  • 1 year: Up to 6 months of support
  • 5 years: Up to 2.5 years of support
  • 10 years: Up to 5 years of support
  • 15 years: More than 7.5 years of support

For marriages that last less than 10 years, spousal support is far less common. If it’s awarded, it will have a specified end date that's usually half the length of the marriage (or less).

If, on the other hand, you were married for more than 10 years, you could be awarded support that lasts upwards of a decade or more. Let's say that your marriage lasted for 20 years before you filed for a divorce. In this situation, spousal support could be awarded for, say, 14 years. 

Negotiating for spousal support 

If you believe you are owed spousal support following your divorce, you will be tasked with negotiating for this support. 

You can avoid going to trial if you're able to agree with your spouse on the particulars of your divorce. If you want to negotiate with your spouse for ongoing support, your first step should be to look at the factors =a judge would consider in a trial. These factors include everything from each spouse's earning capacity and income to the length of the marriage.

Using mediation to come to an agreement on spousal support

Even if your divorce is an amicable one, you may feel uncomfortable sitting down to discuss the heavy topic of finances with your soon-to-be ex. That’s where mediation comes in.

A mediator is a neutral party who works with a couple to find equitable and fair solutions to disputes. If you choose, you could work with a mediator through Hello Divorce for a flat-rate fee. 

You may also choose to employ a financial neutral. This is a financial professional who can analyze your situation and help you plan for your future. Read our article How to Work With a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst for more information.

Financial disclosures

Keep in mind that financial disclosures from one spouse to the other are part of the divorce process. Through the disclosure process, you can obtain the documents you need to calculate the support you're owed. Long-term support is just one potential outcome. 

In most cases, spousal support is temporary, even if it lasts for a lengthy period of time.

Long-term spousal support

There are instances where a spouse may be hoping to receive spousal support permanently. If you're in the midst of a divorce and don't have a sizable income, it's recommended that you explore your options. 

As for long-term spousal support (which still may not be permanent), factors that determine the amount you receive include the following:

  • Your ability to maintain the base standard of living that was established during the marriage
  • Contributions you made to the payor in obtaining their education
  • Each spouse's assets and needs
  • Length of marriage
  • Current age and health
  • Tax consequences for each party
  • Any additional factor that the court deems appropriate to the case

Modifiable vs. non-modifiable long-term spousal support 

Modifiable support

Modifiable long-term spousal support is similar to standard long-term support, with the main difference being the ability to change how long it lasts. 

While a specific amount of spousal support is set at the beginning, the amount you receive could change if circumstances change. Let's say the payor becomes permanently disabled and unable to work. In this situation, they could request the amount of spousal support they pay to be changed.

Non-modifiable support

Non-modifiable long-term spousal support only lasts for the period of time set by the judge in the divorce decree. Even if financial situations change, you cannot modify the amount the payor owes.

This option is only used when the amount of spousal support is very small or the payor is exceedingly wealthy. 

When does long-term spousal support end? 

If you're wondering when long-term spousal support ends, it varies by state. Support might end when you or your spouse remarry or when a new cohabitation occurs.

Spousal support terms to know

Alimony buyout: An alimony buyout involves transferring assets or making a single lump-sum payment to effectively pay the total amount of spousal support owed.

Financial neutral: This is a CPA, CDFA, or similar professional who can help with valuing assets, projecting the needs of each spouse, and budgeting.

Rehabilitative (short-term) support: If the marriage was relatively short, rehabilitative support can be used to help the dependent spouse train to return to the workforce. Support can only last until the individual returns to work.

Reserving jurisdiction: A judge may reserve jurisdiction for spousal support, which means the issue can be addressed after the divorce decree is signed and finalized. This is commonly used for lengthy marriages.

Standard of living: The marital standard of living is the overall degree of comfort each spouse had during the marriage. Spousal support is meant to help the recipient maintain their marital standard of living.

Who can help me get spousal support?

If you want spousal support, you must ask for it and include it as part of your settlement agreement. 

Once you request it or include it in your settlement, the judge will assess whether the amount is fair and if the payor is able to make the payments. 


Recommended reading:  Answers to Your Questions about Spousal Support
Divorce Specialists
After spending years in toxic and broken family law courts, and seeing that no one wins when “lawyer up,” we knew there was an opportunity to do and be better. We created Hello Divorce to the divorce process easier, affordable, and completely online. Our guiding principles are to make sure both spouses feel heard, supported, and set up for success as they move into their next chapter in life.