How long you have to be married in order to get alimony varies widely from state to state. While some states set a minimum standard of at least 10 years, other states limit the amount of alimony you can receive rather than saying how long you have to have been married before you can receive it.
Typical Guidelines in Awarding Alimony
Generally speaking, states award rehabilitative alimony, and long term or permanent alimony is fairly rare. This means that a court is interested in providing alimony to a spouse who needs to get back on his or her feet after the divorce. While many states do not provide set guidelines in terms of how long you have to be married before a judge will consider awarding alimony, a judge is unlikely to award alimony if:
- The marriage didn't last for several years
- The requesting spouse never left the workforce and therefore doesn't need to get back on his or her feet
- There is nothing to prevent the spouse from going to work (ie no children at home, etc.)
The current thought is that if the requesting spouse can go back to work, he or she should do so. While judges will consider the length of the marriage when considering awarding alimony, the requesting spouse's ability to go back to work will ultimately affect the decision - regardless of the length of the marriage.
Examples of State Law
Of course, there are always exceptions, and a judge may decide to forego typical factors based on extenuating circumstances. California and Texas law, for example, provide specific lengths a marriage must have lasted for a court to award alimony.
In California, a judge will use the length of time a marriage lasted to determine how long the receiving spouse will receive alimony. If the marriage is considered of "long duration," meaning that the couple was married for 10 years or longer, the court may award alimony for an extended period of time. In some cases, a spouse may be ordered to pay alimony until the recipient dies or remarries.
For marriages that lasted less than 10 years, the judge may order that alimony be paid for a period equal to one-half the length of the marriage. Therefore, for a couple who was married for eight years, alimony may be ordered for four years. However, these rules are only guidelines; a judge can order that alimony be paid for a shorter or longer time, depending on the circumstances of the case.
In Texas, alimony, called "maintenance" in the state, can only be ordered under very specific circumstances. Maintenance can be awarded when the couple was married for 10 years or more and the spouse requesting the financial support can demonstrate one or more of circumstances:
- A lack of sufficient property to provide for his or her "minimum reasonable" needs
- A physical or mental disability that makes the spouse unable to support him or herself
- Being responsible for the care of a child who is physically or mentally disabled and unable to work as a result
- Being unable to earn enough money in the labor market to provide for his or her "minimum needs"
Being awarded maintenance in Texas is not something that happens often. When a judge does award maintenance, it usually only lasts until the recipient is able to support him or herself. In the case of a person who must be at home to care for a handicapped child, a court may make an exception and order that maintenance be paid on an ongoing basis. When maintenance is ordered, it may only be awarded for a maximum of three years.
Your Alimony Award
If you're trying to calculate alimony, or are sure you're going to get an award - do not be so quick to assume. Gone are the days where a spouse is given permanent alimony as a general principle. There typically have to be extenuating circumstances to receive permanent alimony, and even some alimony for a predetermined length of time may be hard to come by depending on the state you live in. Because state laws vary so widely, and there are many factors used to determine an alimony award besides the length of the marriage, your best option is to look up information from a legal source such as the American Bar Association, and seek in-person legal counsel.