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Paying Alimony: How Long Can It Continue?

By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. | Last updated on

If you're ordered to pay alimony, how long can that order continue? The answer varies by state, with some still allowing courts to order lifetime alimony. But those orders are becoming less common, as alimony reform has brought down sweeping changes in alimony laws in the past few years.

For example, a Massachusetts law abolishing lifetime alimony in most cases took effect in 2012. Ex-spouses now only need to pay until their former spouse reaches retirement age or moves in with another partner. The duration of alimony payments is now also based on a formula that incorporates how long a marriage lasted.

Some states don't necessarily have these alimony reform laws in place. So, how long might you expect to pay your ex? Here are some general guidelines:

  • Courts will look to prenuptial agreements, if any. If you and your ex signed a prenup before you got married, you'll probably end up paying for as long as you agreed to in the contract.

  • Rehabilitative alimony will continue according to the court's order. Some alimony payments are deemed "rehabilitative." This means they are meant to "rehabilitate" your former spouse until they are able to support themselves. These types of spousal support payments will continue until your ex finds his or her footing. Courts will usually affix a date for when alimony will either end or become subject to review.

  • Permanent alimony may continue indefinitely. If there is no fixed date for alimony payments to end, they continue indefinitely. Sometimes alimony payments will continue until your ex remarries or lives with another individual.

  • Reimbursement alimony may continue for a fixed period of time. Reimbursement alimony is also temporary. This spousal support is meant to reimburse one spouse for expenses. For example, if one spouse helped support another through graduate school by paying tuition, they may be a prime candidate to receive reimbursement alimony upon divorce.

Alimony laws in some jurisdictions even allow a spouse's estate to continue paying the ex after the payor dies. However, this scenario likely won't unfold in states that have reformed alimony laws and set timelines for when spousal support will end.

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