If you divorce in California, can you be ordered to make spousal support payments – that is, alimony payments? How does a court determine an alimony payment amount? What if that amount isn’t fair? Is paying alimony something that you may have to do for the rest of your life? Can an Orange County divorce law firm help?

If you are concerned about the possibility of having to pay spousal support for the rest of your life, is that concern realistic? If you are divorcing after a long-term marriage, what does the law in California actually require?


When you divorce, if you and the partner you are divorcing can reach your own agreement about alimony, the court will almost always “sign off” on that agreement. But when no agreement can be made, and the spousal support issue is disputed, a judge will usually order alimony payments.

calculating spousal support

Each spouse’s income, assets, debts, and obligations are considered when a judge determines and orders the specific amount of spousal support that must be paid.

In many California divorces, spousal support payment orders are temporary; in other cases, alimony is considered “permanent.” As a rule of thumb, when a marriage lasts less than ten years, spousal support is temporary, and payments are ordered for half the length of the marriage.


California’s “ten-year rule” is famous, but some people do not fully understand it. When a marriage has lasted more than ten years, in many cases, the spousal support payments may be considered “permanent.”

However, the word “considered” is key, and even “permanent” alimony seldom ever really lasts for life. Just because a marriage passes the tenth anniversary, it does not automatically mean that a California court will require life-long spousal support payments.

When either ex-spouse’s life circumstances change following a divorce, either ex-spouse may seek a modification of the court order that sets forth the alimony arrangement.


If you’re in southern California, an experienced Orange County family law attorney can help you file a request with the court for a spousal support order modification.

What you cannot do is simply stop making spousal support payments – even if you are unemployed or you can’t work because you have been injured. You must ask for a modification of the court’s spousal support order.


What California law actually says is that even after a “marriage of long duration,” nothing “limits the court’s discretion to terminate spousal support in later proceedings on a showing of changed circumstances.”

If you carefully read the entire statute, it does not say that marriages of ten or more years automatically result in alimony payments for life. The court retains its power to issue spousal support orders until it terminates spousal support payments.

court issues alimony

If your ex was unemployed during your marriage to act as a homemaker and/or raise children, alimony may be ordered, but after a reasonable amount of time passes, if the ex has not made reasonable efforts to be self-supporting, you should request a modification of the alimony order.


If your ex-spouse has the ability and opportunity to work but nevertheless refuses to work, a judge may consider ordering a vocational evaluation. Here is what state law says regarding these evaluations:

“The examination shall include an assessment of the party’s ability to obtain employment based upon the party’s age, health, education, marketable skills, employment history, and the current availability of employment opportunities.”

Furthermore, the law reads, “The focus of the examination shall be on an assessment of the party’s ability to obtain employment that would allow the party to maintain herself or himself at the marital standard of living.”

judge examines spousal support

Upon receiving a completed vocational evaluation, a judge will consider it and then approve or reject your request for a modification of the court order regarding spousal support.

An ex-spouse who can be self-supporting should be. The law states that if “there are no children, and a party has or acquires a separate estate, including income from employment, sufficient for the party’s proper support, no support shall be ordered or continued against the other party.”


If your ex-spouse is dating someone or is in a new relationship, it does not mean that a court will automatically order an end to the spousal support payments that you’re making.

inspecting finances for spousal support

However, if the other person in a new relationship is paying some of your ex-spouse’s expenses, and if that can be proven, you should request a reduction or an end to your spousal support obligation.

What if your ex-spouse is cohabiting with a nonmarital partner? Again, here is what the law says:

“Except as otherwise agreed to by the parties in writing, there is a rebuttable presumption … of decreased need for spousal support if the supported party is cohabiting with a nonmarital partner.”

Furthermore, “Upon a determination that circumstances have changed, the court may modify or terminate the spousal support.…”


Spousal support issues are a complicated part of family law. The need to receive spousal support, the ability to pay it, and the amount of time that has passed since a divorce are among the factors that a court will consider when it receives a request for a modification of the alimony order.

By itself, the amount of time that has passed since a divorce probably will not be enough to have a spousal support order modified, but a significant change in one ex-partner’s life circumstances may be enough and may meet the legal requirements to have a modification request approved.

If you need legal representation to help you modify a spousal support payment order, you should speak at once with an experienced Orange County family law attorney who handles modification requests routinely.

During a divorce – but also after a divorce – a trustworthy family lawyer’s help is not only necessary, but it is also your legal right. If the spousal support amount that you are paying needs to be changed or eliminated, exercise that right at once, and get the legal help that you need.