Marie Moreno Myers, a family lawyer in Riverside, answers:
Alimony, currently referred to as spousal support, may be awarded for a “reasonable” period of time under the California Family Code. For example, if you were married for less than ten years, reasonable is defined as half the length of marriage (if you were married for five years, you could expect support for 2.5 years.) If you have a long term marriage (ten years or more), the court usually will not set a terminate date for spousal support unless the parties agree to a termination date. In those cases, specific language needs to be included in the termination order. There isn’t a definition for “reasonable” period of time for long term marriages. Further, there is nothing that limits the court’s ability to award support for longer or shorter periods of time.
There are many factors the court takes into consideration and each case is different. For example, if you have a short term marriage, but a spouse is suffering from a long term disability which renders that spouse unable to become self supporting within half the length of marriage, the court may extend support. Therefore, “reasonable” support for that spouse could be longer compared to a spouse who just graduated with a degree and is immediately employable. The spousal support order may be less than half the length of marriage if the party was self supporting sooner.
The court will look to the needs of the party, the ability of the supporting party to pay, each party’s hardships, and several other factors listed in California Family Code § 4320. The length of support can vary depending on each individual set of circumstanc- es. The court must weigh each factor and conduct the great balancing act of what is fair and equitable for both parties under their specific set of cir- cumstances. In a nutshell, the court will preliminarily look at the length of marriage to determine how long to award support.