Limited duration alimony is alimony for a limited period of time (number of years). It is used in marriages where the spouse who will be receiving the alimony needs the money to maintain the marital standard of living for a period of time post-divorce. The notion is that after a number of years have passed the receiving spouse will be self-supporting and she or he won’t need alimony anymore.
Limited duration alimony is awarded when the marriage has been long enough to warrant alimony, but not long enough to warrant open durational (formerly permanent) alimony. This begs the question – how long does a marriage have to last for one spouse to be entitled to limited duration alimony?
Short-Term Marriages (0 to 3 years)
The simple answer is that generally speaking marriages lasting 0 to 3 years are not alimony cases. The rationale is that a union of this length has been too short-term for an alimony obligation to be warranted. This is not to say that reimbursement alimony is out of the question on a short-term marriage. However, in the normal case limited duration alimony will not be awarded in a short term 0-3 year marriage. One area where alimony has been awarded in short-term marriages is in the subset of immigration/family law cases area where a husband or wife has signed an Affidavit of Support for a spouse who they have brought into the country. By signing the Affidavit of Support the signing spouse has obligated themselves to support the other spouse at a certain level, even in the case of a short term marriage.
4 to 5 Year Marriages
When you get into 4 and 5 year marriages the alimony conversation begins. Whether alimony is awarded, and the length of the alimony, is an open question. It depends on the parties unique financial circumstances.
Intermediate Term Marriages (6 – 15 years)
Once you get to 6+ years of marriage you are in limited duration alimony territory. Once you get to 15+ years you’re starting to have a conversation about potential open durational alimony (formerly permanent alimony). There is no accepted number of years that crosses a marriage from limited duration alimony to open durational alimony. The facts and circumstances of each particular case influence the type of alimony which is warranted.
How Long Does Limited Duration Alimony Last?
Let’s say that you’ve determined that your case is potentially a limited duration alimony case. You’ve been married to your spouse for 6-15 years, there is a significant difference in your incomes, and you need continued support from them post-divorce to maintain the marital standard of living. The next question to be answered is how long (for what period of time) will you need your spouse’s support? Lawyers and judges have come up with some general, unwritten, guidelines to answer this question. One common starting point is to make the minimum term of limited duration alimony one-half of the term of the marriage. So on an 8 year marriage the minimum term would be 4 years of alimony. Another method of calculating the term of alimony is to connect with dates that children graduate from middle school or high school. These again are rough parameters that are used to start the negotiation over the term of alimony. They are not hard and fast rules. It should be noted that limited duration alimony will not last longer than the duration of the marriage. So on a 10 year marriage alimony will not run for more than 10 years.
A creative way to arrive at an acceptable alimony figure and term is to employ time or event triggered step-downs over the term of the alimony payment. For example, let’s say on a 14 year marriage the parties agree on 9 years of alimony. The first 3 years of alimony could be paid at one monthly rate. The second three years could be at a stepped-down rate, and the final three years could be at an even lower rate. Ideally, the stepdowns will coincide with anticipated increases in the supported spouses income. Stepdowns provide flexibility so that if a supported spouse needs more money in his or her first years post-divorce higher payments can be front-loaded with a tapering off in later years.
Feel free to call me directly if you have questions about limited duration alimony or about any other family law related matter. My telephone number is 201-731-3086 (toll-free 844-431-3380). Alternatively, you can contact me using the e-mail contact form provided. I have been practicing family law in New Jersey for over 20 years. My main areas of practice are Bergen, Hudson, Passaic, Essex and Union counties in northern New Jersey. The consultation via telephone or email is free.