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Will I have to pay alimony forever?

If you have concerns about paying spousal support after your divorce, you are not alone. Alimony is one of the most contentious issues to settle, and many negotiations come to a grinding halt when the topic comes up. Understanding the purpose of spousal support may help you prepare for the discussion in your own divorce.

Family courts in California and other states have certain matters to weigh before determining if a spouse will pay alimony, how much and for how long. When a couple goes through mediation, they have more control over issues like alimony. However, you may wish to take these same factors into consideration even if you and your spouse are using alternative dispute resolution to end your marriage.

Weighing the need for support

The first thing to understand is that alimony is not a punishment for any wrongdoing in a marriage. It is also not a given, especially if both spouses are gainfully employed at the time of the divorce. More accurately called spousal support, this award is usually a temporary payment offered to a spouse for whom the divorce will create a financial disadvantage.

A judge will begin by ascertaining if you are capable of paying spousal support based on your gross income minus mandatory deductions such as taxes and health care. Next, it is more likely that a judge will grant alimony under any of the following circumstances:

  • You have been married a considerably long time.
  • Your spouse receives physical custody of your children.
  • Your spouse has no marketable skills or has been out of the workforce for a number of years, for example to raise children.
  • Your spouse was accustomed to a high standard of living during the marriage.
  • Your spouse contributed significantly to your success during the marriage, for example supporting you while you earned your degree or started your business.

In most cases, alimony will provide temporary assistance to your ex to allow him or her to do what is necessary to become self-supporting. This may mean going back to school, reinstating a lapsed certification or gaining marketable skills. However, if you and your spouse have been married for decades or your spouse's health precludes him or her from returning to work, the court may award permanent support. This does not necessarily mean you will never see an end to paying alimony, only that the court establishes no specific date for you to stop payments.

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