How Long Do You Have to Pay Spousal Support? (2023 Guide)

Laura E. Shapiro -

The emotional and financial turmoil of a divorce can feel overwhelming.

One of the most critical aspects of this process is determining spousal support, formerly also known as alimony.

“How long do you have to pay spousal support?”

This is a question that often plagues those going through a divorce. 

In this blog post, we will explore spousal support, the factors that affect its duration, and how Colorado-specific laws come into play.

By understanding these aspects, you can better navigate the complexities of spousal support and find a path forward that works for both parties.

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Short Summary

  • Spousal support is a financial award in some divorce cases to ensure the lower-earning spouse has sufficient resources.
  • The duration of spousal support is affected by factors such as length of marriage, facts in the case, financial circumstances, and statutory considerations. 
  • Modification or termination may be necessary for various reasons.  It usually terminates upon the recipient’s remarriage.  To modify it, you must present valid reasons before a judge with proper legal representation. 

Understanding Spousal Support and How Long It Lasts

Spousal support, sometimes called alimony or maintenance, is a financial arrangement awarded in some divorce cases to ensure the lower-earning spouse has sufficient resources.

Spousal support aims to mitigate the disparate economic effects of divorce by providing financial assistance to the lower-earning spouse. 

But why is this necessary? 

Imagine a scenario where one spouse has given up their career to raise children, allowing the other spouse to advance professionally.

The lower-earning spouse may need financial assistance to obtain the necessary job skills to support themselves.

The duration of maintenance can vary depending on the circumstances of each case.

Factors such as the length of the marriage and the specific personal and financial circumstances of both spouses can impact the duration of spousal support.

The judge will decide whether to grant an alimony award and, if granted, will determine its amount and duration.

Types of Spousal Support

There are three main types of spousal support:

Temporary Support

Temporary spousal support is alimony ordered while the divorce is pending before final orders.

This type of support ends once the court issues the divorce decree or grants a decree of legal separation unless otherwise agreed or ordered.

Durational Support

Durational spousal support is when the court orders alimony for a specified period of time post-divorce.

The court will consider numerous factors, including the length of the marriage when deciding the duration of the support payments.

Permanent Support 

Permanent spousal support is when a party is court-ordered to pay their former spouse alimony for the rest of their life.

While this is less common than temporary and durational support, the court may order permanent support if the marriage lasts 20 years or more or is otherwise deemed necessary. 

Factors Affecting Spousal Support Duration

As we mentioned earlier, the duration of spousal support is affected by factors such as the length of the marriage and the financial circumstances of both parties. 

A longer marriage usually results in a longer duration of spousal support.

This is because, in long-term marriages, spouses often have more intertwined financial lives and more time to become accustomed to a certain standard of living.

Financial circumstances, such as income disparity and earning potential, also play a significant role in determining the duration and amount of spousal maintenance awards.

For example, suppose the higher-earning spouse experiences a job loss or a substantial increase in income. In that case, the spousal support arrangement may need to be modified.

This is where legal assistance becomes crucial in navigating Colorado-specific laws and modifications to protect financial interests.

Length of Marriage

The length of the marriage is a major factor in determining spousal support duration, and there is a Colorado guideline which is based on the number of years married.

In Colorado, for instance, spousal support duration is calculated using a percentage system and specific guidelines based on the duration of the marriage

— generally, the longer the marriage, the longer the duration of spousal support.

For example, guidelines state that the length of support payments for a three-year marriage is 31% of the length of marriage which is 11 months.

At twelve and a half years of marriage, the percentage caps out at 50%.

Spousal maintenance guidelines start at three years of marriage, but you may still be entitled to maintenance if you’ve been married for less than three years if there are circumstances justifying the award. 

Financial Circumstances

Both parties’ Financial circumstances must be considered when determining the duration of spousal support.

The court will assess the financial resources of both parties when making this determination.

The higher the earning capacity of the recipient spouse, the shorter the duration of spousal support and the lower the monthly amount will be.

Changes in financial circumstances, such as joblessness, illnesses and other reasons may prompt adjustments in the duration of spousal support.

Understanding how your particular financial circumstances may influence spousal support duration is vital, which is why obtaining legal assistance in such cases is highly recommended.

Support Calculation

In Colorado, spousal support is determined using a guideline that the court does not have to use. 

This system ensures a fair calculation of spousal support based on each party’s income and financial resources. For more detailed information, check out our article: How Is Spousal Support Calculated?

Modifying or Terminating Spousal Support

Spousal support can be modified or terminated when a significant change in financial circumstance occurs or illness and the like.

This is important information, as life’s twists and turns can often lead to changes in financial situations for both the payor and the payee.

When these changes occur, it’s important to know your options for adjusting the spousal support arrangement, including the possibility of paying spousal support in a different amount or for a different duration.

However, modifying or terminating spousal support isn’t a simple process.

It requires presenting a valid reason for the change to a judge, who will then decide whether to adjust the spousal support order.

This is where the modification process comes into play.

Modification Process

To modify spousal support, you must file a motion to modify with the court that initially issued the order.

You will have to present a legitimate rationale for alteration to the judge, i.e. a substantial and continuing change in circumstances that render the initial order unfair.

Based on the evidence provided, the judge will then determine whether to modify the spousal support order.

This process can be complex and requires an understanding of Colorado-specific laws, making it essential to have proper legal representation during the modification process.

High-Net-Worth Divorces and Spousal Support

High-net-worth divorces involve different regulations and considerations regarding spousal support, with judges having more discretion in determining the duration and amount.

The magnitude of money involved in these divorces can result in higher monthly payments for spousal support.

The court considers both parties’ fiscal resources and the lifestyle they became accustomed to during the marriage.

Moreover, the court may consider the earning potential and financial requirements of the lower-earning spouse when determining spousal support in high-net-worth divorces.

This highlights the importance of having an experienced legal team guide you through the complexities of spousal support in high-net-worth divorces.

Legal Assistance in Spousal Support Cases

Legal counsel is essential in spousal support cases, as seasoned attorneys can assist in navigating negotiations, Colorado-specific regulations, and legal separation alterations to safeguard your financial interests.

An experienced spousal support lawyer can help negotiate the issue of alimony payments, including rehabilitative alimony, and draft a divorce agreement outside of court or advocate for a decision to award alimony that safeguards your financial interests over the long term within the court, ensuring you pay or receive maintenance fairly.


In conclusion, spousal support is a crucial aspect of divorce proceedings, ensuring both parties can maintain a certain standard of living and achieve self-sufficiency.

The duration of spousal support depends on various factors, including the length of the marriage and the financial circumstances of both parties.

Colorado-specific laws also play a significant role in determining spousal support duration and amount.

It’s important to remember that legal assistance is invaluable in spousal support cases, as experienced lawyers can help navigate negotiations, state-specific laws, and modifications to protect financial interests.

By understanding the complexities of spousal support, you can make informed decisions that will benefit both you and your former spouse as you transition to your new lives apart.

Laura E. Shapiro

Laura Shapiro is an award-winning Family Law Attorney with 40+ years of experience. Laura practices Family Law exclusively with her primary focus being divorce and child custody matters.

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