How long do you have to be married to get alimony?

If you’re getting a divorce, here’s what you should know about the factors that impact alimony.

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What's Inside

If you played a game of word association, chances are, many people would say “alimony” in response to the word “divorce”. Also known as spousal support or spousal maintenance, alimony is a common concern for both parties in a divorce case.

Aside from how much alimony one party may receive (and the other party may pay), as well as how long those payments last, many people wonder, how long do you have to be married to get alimony? 

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The answer depends on where you file for divorce. Laws regarding divorce and alimony differ from state to state. Many states have no marriage length requirement before a spouse may request and receive alimony. Other states indicate a minimum period a marriage must last to make an alimony award more likely. And in many states, often the longer your marriage, the greater your entitlement to alimony is.

Read on to learn more about spousal support, including how to qualify for alimony, how long you have to be married to get alimony and how to get alimony in a divorce.

What is alimony?

Alimony is a payment the court orders one spouse to pay to the other after their divorce is final or during divorce proceedings. Often, alimony is meant to reasonably support a spouse who doesn’t have the means to do so on their own. 

In many cases, a spouse must pay alimony in monthly installments, but sometimes the court awards alimony to the other spouse in a lump sum. Lastly, alimony could be a permanent or temporary obligation.

How to qualify for alimony

Whether you qualify for alimony depends on your state’s alimony law. This law may include how long you have to be married to get alimony. Let’s break this down.

In some states, whether to award alimony and how much to award is a decision that requires the court to consider factors such as:

  • The receiving spouse lacks the assets to provide for their own reasonable needs
  • The receiving spouse has made significant contributions (financial or otherwise) to the education, training or earning ability of the other spouse
  • The receiving spouse had a long marriage and their age might prevent them from obtaining adequate employment
  • The receiving spouse doesn’t have the earning ability to be self-sufficient
  • The receiving spouse is the parent of a child whose condition-related or age-related needs indicate that the spouse shouldn’t be required to work outside the home

Other states, like Colorado, have detailed guidelines for the amount of alimony to award. These states may also require your marriage to have lasted a minimum amount of time, such as three years, before you can request alimony.

Still other states require you to meet specific eligibility requirements in addition to having a need for support before the court can consider awarding alimony. For example, Texas requires you to meet one of the following conditions: 

  • The paying spouse was convicted of, or received deferred adjudication for, a crime involving family violence committed during the marriage
  • The receiving spouse is seeking maintenance because of an incapacitating mental or physical disability
  • The couple has been married for at least 10 years
  • The receiving spouse has custody of a child whose physical or mental disability prevents the spouse from earning sufficient income 

Lastly, some states may bar a spouse who is unfaithful or engages in sexual misconduct from receiving alimony.

How long do you have to be married?

As you can see, there’s no easy answer to the question, “How long do you have to be married to get alimony?” The number of years you were married may or may not be a factor in whether a court will grant you alimony. It may be helpful to contact an experienced, local divorce attorney to learn if you’re eligible for alimony in your state.

How a court calculates alimony

How much alimony you may receive or have to pay also depends on where you divorce. States may calculate alimony differently.

Many states leave the duration and calculation of alimony to the court’s discretion, requiring it to consider factors such as:

  • The ability of the paying spouse to meet their own needs while making alimony payments
  • The standard of living established during the marriage
  • The resources of the spouse seeking alimony (including the portion of the marital property they received in the divorce)
  • The amount of time the spouse seeking alimony needs to obtain the training or education necessary for finding adequate work
  • The health and age of the spouse seeking alimony
  • The duration of the marriage

Other states have stricter formulas for calculating alimony that are based on the parties’ incomes. 

You may find it helpful to consult with a local attorney to understand what formula, if any, your state uses, and how much alimony they would expect a court to award in your case.

How to get alimony in a divorce

Depending on where you live, if you’re the spouse seeking a divorce, you may request alimony in your divorce petition. Once you complete and personally serve your divorce petition on your spouse, the family law court will review your financial information, your spouse’s financial information and your circumstances to decide whether alimony is warranted. 

If your spouse serves you with divorce papers, you may request spousal support in your response to the divorce petition and let the court decide. 

No matter who files, you may also obtain alimony by entering a written maintenance or alimony agreement with your spouse and submitting it to the court for review.

The window of time you have to request alimony depends on what jurisdiction you’re in. In a state like Massachusetts, you may submit a complaint for alimony to the court at any time, even after your divorce is final. But in a state like Maryland, a spouse must request alimony before their divorce is final and at no time later. 

How to prove your right to alimony

Establishing your right to any relief in a divorce case typically means providing strong proof either in negotiations with your spouse or in an evidentiary hearing before the court. Evidence you may need to gather to prove your right to alimony may include:

  • Tax returns
  • Wage records 
  • Education records
  • Investment records
  • Invoices
  • Employment documents
  • Retirement documents
  • Property deeds
  • Healthcare records
  • Receipts 
  • Property leases
  • Bank statements

How long does alimony last?

If alimony is granted, it may last for a lifetime, for a handful of years, for a handful of months or when one of the following occurs:

  • The receiving spouse remarries 
  • The paying spouse passes away 
  • The receiving spouse starts cohabitating with a significant other 
  • Payment of alimony becomes inequitable

Whether any of these factors could terminate your right to alimony depends on where you live and what your court order says.

How to modify an alimony order

If you’re facing divorce, then you already know how quickly circumstances can change. If your financial circumstances change after your divorce is final, you may ask the court to modify the alimony in your case. 

Depending on where you are, you may have to file a petition to modify alimony with the court and state your reasons for wanting the change. Reasons for a change could include:

  • You’re making less money 
  • Your spouse is making more money
  • Your financial needs have changed

After completing your petition, you may need to have your spouse served with the paperwork.

How an attorney may help

In general, whether you choose to have an attorney by your side in your fight for alimony is up to you. That said, some spouses appreciate the help of a lawyer when seeking spousal support. 

Requesting alimony or fighting to reduce your liability can be a sensitive and emotionally charged subject, and an attorney may be a buffer for those difficult conversations. They may also use legal tools to ensure that you have access to all the financial information necessary to prove your case. And an attorney may analyze the details of your case to increase the likelihood that you receive all the alimony you’re owed or that you don’t pay more alimony than necessary. 

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Disclaimer: This article is provided as general information, not legal advice, and may not reflect the current laws in your state. It does not create an attorney-client relationship and is not a substitute for seeking legal counsel based on the facts of your circumstance. No reader should act based on this article without seeking legal advice from a lawyer licensed in their state.

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