When Does an Order for Spousal Support Terminate?
The termination of spousal support is a pretty contentious and polarizing issue, especially once the court issues a judgment of divorce. After all, the parties are no longer married. How long will one have to pay support to the other?
It may not happen very often, but the parties are free to agree between themselves on a termination date for spousal support. Such an agreement will have to be submitted to the court that issued the order for spousal support since the agreement essentially modifies or terminates a legally enforceable order issued by that same court.
The court will have to satisfy itself that the parties are fully aware of the contents of the agreement and that both parties are executing the termination agreement voluntarily and willingly, and that both parties have the benefit of counsel.
Grounds for Termination of Spousal Support
More often than not, however, one party or the other goes to court and formally requests an order to terminate spousal support. Some of the grounds that can be raised to support this request include:
A material change in circumstances that justifies termination of spousal support
The purpose of spousal support is to provide one party with financial assistance, especially if that person has given up his or her career for the sake of raising the children such that his or her earning capacity has been impaired. That party would have been fully dependent on their spouse or domestic partner for the duration of the marriage, and spousal support affords them time to get back on their feet while maintaining them in the kind of lifestyle that they had before the divorce.
So if that party does get back on his or her feet so that they are now able to provide for themselves, it can be argued that the purpose for the payment of support no longer exists. The person paying support can argue a “material change in circumstances” that would justify terminating spousal support.
On the other hand, the party paying support can also argue a personal material change in circumstances such that he or she is no longer able to pay the amount of support ordered by the court. For instance, if that person loses his or her job and income, he can go to the court and ask for an order to terminate spousal support.
If, after the judgment of divorce, there is a criminal conviction for domestic violence based on facts that took place within five years prior to the filing for divorce, there arises a presumption that the party who was convicted of domestic violence is not and should not be entitled to support.
Length of Marriage
A party can also ask for termination of spousal support based on the length or duration of marriage. While the determination of when to terminate support based on the duration of marriage is left to the discretion of the court, there are basic guiding principles that help the court assess the effect of length of marriage on orders for spousal support.
Typically, if a marriage lasted less than 10 years, it is considered a short marriage and spousal support should last for half the length of the duration of the marriage. So, if the parties were married for six years, then once the party has been paying spousal support for three years, they can then go to the court and argue that half the duration of the marriage has been reached and that therefore the order for support should be terminated.
Order of Indeterminate Duration
For marriages that lasted for 10 years or more, courts do not usually set a duration for spousal support. This is considered a long marriage, and if a party makes a request for termination of the order of support, that party has the burden to prove that support is no longer necessary.
Such a support order is usually effective until either the death of either spouse or the remarriage of the person receiving support. This is especially true if it was a long marriage and the spouse lacks the capacity to become self-sufficient.