How Long Do You Have to be Married to Receive Alimony?

By:
Michael Tierney
Updated
July 1, 2022

When a marriage ends, as upsetting as it is, the ensuing divorce negotiates the division of assets. However, sometimes a divorce results in one spouse paying the other continued support. This financial aid is known as alimony or spousal support and is a common part of divorce proceedings worldwide.

While alimony is not always guaranteed, it is usually one of the first things negotiated when divorce proceedings close out. The assignment of alimony to a spouse is usually based on several factors surrounding the financial status of both parties. However, other details about your marriage will impact the existence of an alimony agreement.

One of the biggest questions regarding alimony is about how long you need to be married for it to be an option.

Solution While it might seem like alimony is a given in any divorce, you must be married for a certain amount of time to qualify.

If you divorce before the marriage meets the requisite timeline, alimony payments are unlikely to be part of the divorce proceedings. How long do you need to be married for alimony to be factored into the divorce proceedings? This article will help answer this question, so you know what to expect in the divorce negotiations.

What is Alimony?

If this is the first time you have heard the term "alimony," you might be looking for some general information:

Solution Alimony is a term for financial support that one spouse pays the other to keep them financially stable following divorce. However, the calculations of how much alimony is expected to be paid out and who is responsible for providing alimony is something discussed by the courts. Therefore, it will take your situation, along with that of your spouse, into consideration. This way, the alimony agreement remains fair for both parties.

Generally, the most significant factor determining alimony payments is each spouse's annual income. Suppose one spouse receives a higher annual income while the other makes significantly less. In that case, a judge will likely use the difference to determine a fair but equitable alimony structure.

It is worth noting that the male spouse rarely receives alimony as only 3% of divorced men receive alimony payments despite 40% of American households' primary income coming from the female spouse. This is because there is a stigma behind men receiving alimony as it originally only applied to women in a time when the wife was unable to get full-time employment. Although, this statistic might not be identical for same-sex couples pursuing a divorce.

Examining Alimony Payment

However, the male spouse can receive alimony payments if they are the lower-income spouse. This is doubly true for those spouses who are the custodial parent of any children they have with their spouse. These details directly affect who is issued alimony payments and how much the payments are worth. If you and your spouse make a similar amount of money, the odds of alimony becoming a factor are low. It exists to maintain the standard of living that both spouses enjoyed during the marriage.

There are no restrictions on how you spend your alimony check per se. That being said, if you are dependent on the alimony for essentials, you should spend it wisely. In theory, you could easily spend the entire check on a vacation, but it might leave you at a disadvantage for more important expenses. You should mainly use these funds to pay for essentials such as housing, power, and food if you lack a steady source of income.

If there is a discrepancy in the incomes of both spouses, alimony will almost certainly be a factor in your divorce proceedings. That said, it will only be a factor if you are married as long as the state requires.

How Long Do You Need to Be Married?

While you must be married for a certain length of time to qualify for alimony, the restrictions do not work the way you might think.

In some states, the length of your marriage does not exclude you from alimony outright. Instead, it determines how long the alimony lasts before the payments are no longer required. While each state has different laws and regulations that determine alimony payments, most use the duration of the marriage as a frame for how long the spouse will need support rather than a way of measuring if any support is needed.

Typically, the duration of spousal support is a fraction of the duration of the marriage. Usually, support payments continue for half the length of the marriage in most states. For example, in most states, a marriage that lasted six months would incur alimony payments for three months and would stop after that. A better example would be a 6-year marriage resulting in 3 years of alimony. However, the rules around alimony calculations are not universal and change depending on the state.

Filing For Divorce

Some states are structured enough to offer access to an alimony calculator you can use to determine the average alimony payment and timeline you can expect. Other states, however, are not as clear on the particulars of calculating alimony duration and payments. For example, the state of Nevada is not as clear in the determining factors of alimony payments and offers no calculation tool. However, the duration of the marriage is known to have a role in how the judge makes their decision.

Solution So, regarding how long you have to be married to qualify for alimony, the simple answer is that any length of time over a month should be sufficient—the shorter the marriage, the lower the payments and duration of the alimony.

Of course, there will be variables accounting for the state's divorce laws. Still, the basic principle is that the duration of the marriage only impacts the duration of the alimony payments.

However, there is another detail to remember about alimony, regardless of how long you were married. While the length of the marriage is primarily used to determine how long alimony payments are issued, it does help the judge in determining what type of spousal support you are likely to receive.

Different Types of Alimony

Alimony might come off as an all-encompassing term for spousal support. However, different types of alimony might be available in your state that determines the payment duration. The duration of the marriage sometimes determines the type of alimony you or your spouse are eligible to receive. Marriages that lasted a particularly long time might qualify for one type of alimony over those that were brief. Understanding the different types of alimony is crucial to navigating what role it will play in your divorce.

Three distinct types of alimony can be applied to a divorced couple. These alimony types are specific to when the alimony payments begin, what they are for, and how long they remain in effect. These three alimony types are referred to as:

  • Temporary
  • Rehabilitative
  • Permanent

To start, we will cover temporary alimony.

Solution As the name implies, temporary alimony is not meant to be sustained and is designed for a specific purpose. Temporary spousal support is a type of alimony meant to go into effect during the divorce proceedings to ensure that you or your spouse's legal fees and other expenses are met.

However, temporary support is not always necessary as it is meant to fund the lower-income spouse through divorce. The judge might issue a temporary support order if you depend entirely on your spouse and cannot provide for your legal costs. The same applies to the inverse if your spouse is dependent on you.

Temporary support has no relevance to the duration of your marriage as it is typically put into effect early in the divorce process. It also ends when the divorce case is finished, and a general alimony agreement is reached. The remaining types of alimony will only be put into effect when the divorce is finalized, and the needs of both spouses have been measured. The support type used depends on the length of the marriage.

Alimony Payment

The next type of alimony is rehabilitative support, also known as "bridge the gap" support that a judge issues if your marriage is short-lived.

Solution Rehabilitative support is outlined in detail with a beginning date and an end date that usually only spans a few years based on the total length of time you were married. Like temporary support, rehabilitative support is meant to offer aid to a spouse who is completely dependent on the other and has no direct source of income. The purpose of rehabilitative support is to bridge the financial gap while you or your spouse search for gainful employment.

Rehabilitative support continues while the dependent spouse attends a training course to prepare themselves for employment. If you are the one paying support, and it seems as though your former spouse is not putting effort into their training, you can raise that concern to lower the support you are obligated to pay out. However, the burden of proof lies with you if you suspect your ex of this behavior. It is also worth noting that your spouse can make the same request if you are the one receiving the support.

However, there is one last type of alimony that you must consider. The final type of support is permanent support which, as the name suggests, is a form of indefinite financial support.

Solution Permanent support is rare and is generally only issued in cases where the marriage lasted a minimum of 10 years. The circumstances that permit permanent support to be authorized involve the dependent spouse's inability to return to the workforce. Several states do not offer permanent support due to the ambiguous end date of the support. In the states that allow it, the term "permanent" is a bit of a misnomer.

Suppose you are the dependent spouse, and a permanent support order is issued as part of the divorce. In that case, you would receive financial support from your ex-spouse until your ex-spouse passes away or until you remarry. Once you enter into a new relationship where finances are shared and distributed, your spouse is no longer expected to support you financially since your new partner will be able to bear that responsibility instead.

Alimony Support Payment

Permanent support is not likely to be an issue in your case since it is not accepted in every state and would require you or your spouse to be unable to work. If a permanent support plan is enacted, it is meant to provide for essentials and should not be abused if you want to hold on to the plan.

These different types of alimony are based on your professional situation and the length of time you and your spouse were married. However, alimony is never guaranteed, and a judge must approve the payment structure before it can take effect. Despite how complicated alimony is, it does not cover the essential knowledge of divorce law that is needed to navigate it properly. There is always more to learn regarding legal procedures, especially when the procedures are based on divorce law.

Learn the Law

Divorce is messy and unpleasant, often regressing into a mere argument between adults. However, it is still based on legal policies and is moderated by lawyers and a judge. Part of an amicable and legal divorce is understanding alimony's role and how the support structure is determined. While the duration of the marriage plays a role in this decision, it is not the only defining factor and certainly not the most important. Now that you understand divorce law's policies on alimony, you might think yourself prepared for anything.

Learning the Law

However, knowledge is the best weapon in any legal battle, divorce included. There is always more to learn about the legal world, especially since laws are fluid and subject to change. The nuances of divorce law are only decipherable by those with specialized education. However, you can easily acquire the information pertinent to the average citizen with some research. We recognize you are likely eager to put the divorce proceedings behind you, but learning more can improve your chances of financial and emotional recovery.

Written By:
Michael Tierney
Michael is a legal writer and graduate of WSU. Prior to becoming a legal writer, he had 6 years of experience as a legal assistant and office manager for a family law attorney. He's written about numerous legal subjects from helping spouses who are stuck in toxic situations to the intricacies of custody battles. In his spare time, he enjoys hiking, rock climbing, and building custom keyboards.

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