How Long Will Alimony Be Paid?

Whether you're paying alimony or receiving it, one of the most basic questions you may have for a divorce law attorney is how long the arrangement will last. Let's explore 5 of the factors that will dictate whether spousal support payments will be awarded and how long they'll be paid.

Temporary vs. Long-Term Support

First, it's important to understand the difference between these two types of support. Temporary support is usually awarded by the court while the outcome of a divorce proceeding is still pending, although it's possible for the parties to arrive at a temporary agreement. The goal is to make sure a less financially advantaged partner won't be wiped out simply by going through divorce. Long-term support is what's awarded once a final agreement or ruling is reached.

State Formulas for Alimony

Most states use some sort of formula based on the length of the marriage. These vary, so it's a good idea to talk with a divorce law services provider to get the specifics for your state. Many states use the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act as the source of their guidelines.

California, for example, uses a fairly standard model where marriages are broken up into three groups. Following marriages lasting 5 or fewer years, alimony is paid for half the time the marriage lasted. Marriages lasting 10 to 20 years lead to longer obligations, usually about 60 to 70 percent of the length of the marriage. After a marriage lasting more than 20 years, the alimony obligation may continue indefinitely until one partner retires or remarries.


If one partner supported the other at a critical time, such as keeping the family afloat financially while the other went to college, they may be entitled to alimony in an amount and a time sufficient to pay them back. Notably, this award is on top of other money that may be awarded.

Emotional and Physical State

Judges have broad leeway to award alimony in situations where a former spouse is emotionally or physically in a poor position to make income. If they're going through rehabilitation, an award may last as long as it takes for the spouse to become able to obtain reasonable work.

Living Standards

A lesser consideration is the standard of living the couple had established during the marriage. The courts usually try to maintain as close to that standard of living as possible following a divorce.