Long-term spousal support

Once a divorce is final, you may receive (or pay) spousal or domestic partner support. This is called permanent or long-term spousal support. This is usually a monthly payment that can last for many years.

When and how is support ordered

Many marriages and domestic partnerships end without either spouse paying this type of support. 

Long-term support is more common when: 

  • The marriage was long 

  • One person earns significantly more than the other  

The judge can make three types of spousal support orders. 

  • Order an amount of support that one spouse pays the other
  • Reserve spousal support - this means that the court is not ordering support now. But, it could in the future. So, support is $0 now but could be changed at a later date.
  • End (terminate) the ability of the court to award support

You can agree about the type of support order you want. If you can’t agree, you can ask a judge to decide. 

How much? How long will it last?

Either you will agree or a judge will have to decide how much support and how long it will last.

The longer you were married, the longer support can last 

Support lasts the reasonable amount of time it would take for the spouse to become self-supporting. The longer you were married, the longer it's assumed this will take. 

The judge starts with some basic assumptions: 

  • For marriages less than ten years, support will last half the length of the marriage

  • For marriages more than 10 years, there’s no assumption about what’s reasonable 

For these long-term marriages (lasting more than ten years) support may last for as long as the one spouse needs the support and the other spouse can pay. This could be for many years. 

There are points when support will end

Support can end when: 

  • You agree in writing about the date it will end and the court signs off on the agreement 

  • The court orders that it ends 

  • The supported spouse remarries 

  • Either spouse dies 

Length and amount of support is based on a set of factors  

There’s no math formula or easy way to figure this out. Basically, the judge takes a big picture look at your situation. They’re trying to figure out: 

  1.  How long it would take for the supported spouse to become self-supporting 

  1.  How much money they’ll need until they get there

To figure this out, the court uses a set of factors. 

Understand the factors a judge must consider

The judge must use a set of factors (the Family Code 4320 factors) to decide the length and amount of support. If you’re asking the judge to order long-term spousal support, you will need to let the court know what your situation is for each of these factors.

The judge must consider: 
  • How long you were married

  • Your age and health

  • Your incomes 

  • What you’re capable of earning (called earning capacity) 

    This means each person’s skills and education along with the job market for those skills. They also consider the time and cost it might take to gain skills and education.  

  • Your standard of living while married 

    Standard of living is basically your lifestyle. It means things like the type of house you lived in, the kind of car you owned, what kind of vacations you took and how often, whether you used credit cards a lot. 

  • How much property or debt you each have 

  • Whether one of you helped the other get an education, training, career, or professional license 

  • Need and ability to pay

    This means how much money the person asking for support would need to have the same lifestyle during their marriage and whether the person paying can pay that amount. 

  • The impact of tax laws on spousal support 

  • If there was a history of abuse during your marriage

If you have children together:

  • How caring for children impacted either of your careers

  • How working now will impact your children

These are also good things to keep in mind if you and your spouse try to agree before you go to court. This tells you what a judge would consider if you can’t agree. 

There are forms that list the 4320 factors.

  • Spousal or Domestic Partner Support Declaration Attachment (form FL-157). You can use this form if you need to ask the judge to make a decision about long-term spousal support. 
  • Spousal or Domestic Partner Support Factors Under Family Code Section 4320-Attachment (form FL-349). The judge uses this to show they considered all the factors before making a decision about long-term support. 

Get a long-term support order

You can agree about long-term support or ask a judge to decide at a trial.

  • If you and your spouse agree about support, you can write up the agreement and make it a part of the final orders in your case (called the judgment).
  • If you can't agree on long-term support, you will generally need to have a trial where a judge will decide. Before the trial, you will have more chances to try to reach an agreement.

You can learn more about reaching agreements or deciding to go to trial in making decisions during a divorce.

Change a long-term support order

If you have a long-term support order and your situation changes: 

  • If your spouse will agree to change, you can write-up, both sign, and have a judge sign your new agreement. Get step-by-step instruction on how to prepare agreement to change support .
  • If you can't agree, you can ask the judge to change the amount or even end support. You will need to show that there's been a significant change in your situation. Get step-by-step instruction on how to ask to change support.

Talk to a lawyer about long-term support. 

Long-term support can be complicated especially in a long-term marriage (greater than ten years). Even if you don't hire an attorney for your entire case, you can hire a limited scope attorney just to advise about long-term support.