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Duration of Spousal Support With the Courts

What do the courts say about how long spousal support should be paid? Itís rarely paid at all after a very short marriage when each spouse is self-sufficient. Once over this threshold, courts consider marriages longer than a year or two, marriages in which one spouse is in need or marriages with an established lifestyle to be extended. The apparent trend: once a need for support is found following a marriage of whatever length, the order itself will seldom terminate automatically out of caution that support not be stopped prematurely.

Why no fixed number of years? It appears courts have enough difficulty in making these orders without requiring them to also tell the future. Itís safer to retain jurisdiction to review the facts occurring in two, five, or ten years, and make the order that makes sense at that time. Rules of thumb, such as half the length of the marriage, are now seen as arbitrary. The court will only order a support cut-off in the future when the evidence already exists showing the recipient will be self supporting by the cut-off date.

Retaining jurisdiction over spousal support allows either party to request a change upon significantly different facts. For short marriages, the court often suggests a review in, for example, two years. The court may go so far as to indicate the recipient is expected to be self-sufficient by then, or may only say the payor may set the issue for review. As a recipient, this flexibility is a safety net; as a payor, you may look at this as the never-ending hand out. For a medium-length marriage, the court might go even further and say support will terminate on a certain date, but then expressly leave the courthouse door open to the recipient to make a request for an extension. One way or another, jurisdiction to extend is reserved.

Payors seeking termination dates often have nearly impossible burdens. Offer a specific plan for the recipientís self sufficiency, and the court will say itíll review the matter to see if your spouse follows the plan when you set it for hearing again in two years. You can maximize your chances by placing the explicit expectations for the supported spouse to become self sufficient in the support order. When four years passes and your ex-spouse is not self sufficient as expected, the burden shifts to show the diligence exercised in pursuing self-sufficiency. A non-diligent recipient gets a warning and one more chance. At the last-chance hearing, support will be decreased by what you prove your ex-spouse should be earning, or eliminated entirely. The court may continue to take the safe route and reserve jurisdiction again.

Spousal support actually does terminate on occasion. Of course, you and your spouse may agree it will stop or the court may order it to stop. Support terminates automatically upon the remarriage of the recipient. It terminates upon the death of either party. It may be suspended while the recipient cohabits with a member of the opposite sex.