How Long Should Alimony Last?

Money
Image by Images_of_Money via Flickr

Not every divorce is an alimony case – if both people worked full-time and paid the bills equally and have the ability to continue supporting themselves, most states will not assign alimony payments.  If one spouse stayed home (or spent the days playing tennis), raised children (or pets), and ran the household (well or poorly), then that person is probably entitled to some amount of alimony as a way of helping adjust to the responsibilities and challenges of single life.

Unlike Child Support, alimony is rarely decided by a pre-determined chart and is usually a balancing test in which the court considers a variety of factors.  The aim of alimony is to help a dependent spouse transition into becoming an independent spouse in a reasonable period of time without having to be a burden on the state in the interim.  So, alimony can be as much or as little money as necessary to accomplish that goal.

Some of the factors various states consider include each party’s earning capacity, debts, property, education, and circumstances.  These factors tend to help determine how much alimony will be necessary, as well as for how long.

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Image by Thomas Hawk via Flickr

Another factor courts consider when determining how long alimony should last is the length of the marriage.  One simple rule many jurisdictions like to follow is that alimony should last one half as long as the marriage itself, up to a certain point.  After about 30 years there may be a presumption of “lifetime alimony.”

There are plenty of reasons why either party might not want alimony to last that long.  It is frequently more cost-effective on both sides for the parties to agree to a lump-sum payment in lieu of alimony (if the parties are selling a house at the same time, for example).  Or a paying party who is looking forward to a clean slate and a new relationship might want to make larger payments for a shorter period of time.

If the parties agree that reasonable alimony would be $1000/month, for example, then it is easy to calculate how much alimony will be paid over the course of 10 years, on a 20 year marriage: $120,000. If, instead, the parties agree to a shorter term, it could benefit both parties.  Even at a discount, the payee spouse will have more capital quickly, and the paying spouse will have the issue of the books in a shorter period of time.

So, it might be in both parties’ best interest to agree to alimony for 5 years at $1500 per month.  It will cost the paying spouse a total of $30,000 less than the other arrangement, and both parties will be equipped to move forward with their own lives sooner.

Remember, a judge would not be likely to order more money for a shorter term; judges tend to want to make orders they feel confident people can follow somewhat easily.  To reach your own creative solution to the alimony question you need to be able to negotiate with your spouse – either directly or through your lawyers. 

It is easier to let a court make your decisions, but it is frequently smarter to work together and make them yourselves.

What We Love:  There is no set formula which applies to every divorce situation and no one knows your own circumstances as well as you do.  Own your divorce process and you get to run your own life!

Published by Sharon Oberst DeFala

Sharon Oberst DeFala has practiced low-impact safe divorce since 1992.

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