Curious how long you have to be married to get alimony? The details vary by state, but here's what you need to know.
Alimony, also known as spousal support or spousal maintenance, is a court-ordered payment made from one spouse to the other during or after a divorce. But how long do you have to be married to be eligible for alimony?
State laws regarding alimony vary, so the answer may depend on the state where the divorce is taking place. But in most states, no minimum length of a marriage is required to be eligible for alimony.
Typically, the longer the marriage, the more likely it is that alimony will be awarded.
This article will explain how the length of a marriage is considered when determining eligibility for alimony, plus other factors that may affect the amount and duration of alimony.
Alimony is financial support provided by one spouse to the other during or after a divorce. It is intended to help the receiving spouse meet their financial needs, especially if they were financially dependent on the other spouse during the marriage.
In some states, the aim is to allow the recipient spouse to maintain a similar standard of living to what they had during the marriage. But other states, like Texas, are stricter and only award if it is necessary to help the requesting spouse make ends meet.
Note that most states have replaced the term alimony in their laws with the terms spousal maintenance or spousal support. But keep in mind that, depending on the state, spousal maintenance and spousal support could describe two different types of financial support.
The purpose of alimony is to provide the spouse who may be financially dependent on the other with the means to make ends meet during and after the divorce.
To determine if alimony is necessary and how much should be awarded, courts consider a number of factors.
As noted, there is no minimum length of marriage in most states to be eligible for alimony. That said, the length of the marriage is generally one of the primary factors that courts look to when deciding whether, and how much, alimony to award.
Typically, the longer the marriage, the more likely it is that alimony will be awarded. This is because a longer marriage generally means that one spouse may have sacrificed their career or educational opportunities for the sake of the marriage and may need financial support to get back on their feet.
Short marriages don't present the same issue. Thus, alimony is more likely after 20 years of marriage, for example, than if a marriage lasted 2 years.
Also, note that states treat the length of the marriage differently when calculating alimony. Illinois alimony laws, for instance, are much more formulaic in how the duration of the marriage impacts the length of an alimony award. Meanwhile, other states like Ohio just use it as one of the various factors they consider when evaluating the circumstances of both parties.
Remember that the exact laws vary state by state, but here are some other factors that courts commonly look at when awarding alimony payments.
One of the most important factors in awarding alimony is each spouse's income and earning capacity. Generally speaking, the greater the discrepancy in the earning capacity between the two spouses, the more likely that alimony will be awarded.
And this makes sense in the context of why alimony is awarded at all -- if there is a big difference between each spouse's financial situation, then one spouse is more likely to need assistance becoming self-supporting. Also, states will only award alimony if the paying spouse has sufficient property or income to make the payments.
Keep in mind that the court may consider the potential earning capacity of each spouse rather than just their current income. For instance, if one spouse has given up their career or educational opportunities for the sake of the marriage but has a strong earning capacity, alimony might be awarded for a short duration while they re-enter the job market.
Courts also consider the age and health of each spouse when awarding alimony.
If one spouse is older or has health issues affecting their ability to earn a living, they may be more likely to be awarded alimony. This becomes a more important issue for spouses near retirement age.
The contribution of each spouse to the marriage is also considered when awarding alimony. This includes both financial and non-financial contributions.
When making their decision, a judge may evaluate whether a spouse has made significant financial contributions to the marriage, such as by paying the mortgage or providing for the family.
The same is true for non-financial contributions, such as taking care of the household and raising the children. If the other party has sacrificed their career or educational opportunities for the sake of the marriage, they may be more likely to be awarded alimony.
In addition to the factors mentioned above, courts may also consider other factors when awarding alimony, such as the tax consequences of alimony, the ability of the paying spouse to pay alimony, and any other relevant factors.
Indeed, many states' laws include a "catch-all" factor allowing judges to consider whatever other circumstances they may find relevant to making a fair and equitable award.
How alimony is calculated varies from state to state, and in most states, there is no set formula for calculating the amount of alimony. Each case is unique and judges often evaluate the parties' circumstances based on a broad range of factors, including those covered above.
That said, as a starting point, family court judges will typically consider the following factors when determining the amount of alimony to award to the supported spouse:
There are several different types of alimony, each with its own purpose and duration. Keep in mind that the duration of the marriage could impact a judge's evaluation differently depending on what type of alimony is at issue.
The most common types of alimony are:
Permanent alimony: Despite its name, it is not necessarily paid permanently, though it is often awarded indefinitely. Permanent alimony can also end if the recipient remarries or one spouse dies. It is typically reserved for long-term marriages in which one spouse has been unable to work due to age, illness, or other factors.
So, how long do you have to married to get alimony?
The answer may vary depending on state laws, but most states do not have a minimum length of marriage for a party to be eligible for alimony. That said, the longer a marriage lasted, the more likely that alimony will be awarded (and in a greater amount or for a longer duration).
If you have other questions about alimony, it may be worth speaking with a divorce lawyer to discuss the specifics of your situation.