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How Long Do You Have to Pay Alimony?

The amount and duration of support can greatly affect the ongoing financial situation of both the paying spouse and the recipient. Consequently, the courts will consider a range of factors before determining the length of the spousal support arrangement.

When a marriage in New Mexico ends in divorce, one spouse may be ordered to pay alimony or spousal support to the other.

This is intended as financial support to prevent financial hardship and help the transition to self-sufficiency.

But how long does one have to pay alimony in New Mexico? And can the original court order be modified?

Is alimony indefinite or time-limited? If it is time-limited, can you simply stop paying after that time is up or do you need to go back to court?

Understanding the precise terms of your court order will avoid nasty surprises down the line with spousal support payments.

What types of spousal support exist in New Mexico?

Judges in New Mexico have the power to award one or more of several different types of spousal support, depending on the unique circumstances of your case:

  • Transitional spousal support – awarded to spouses who need to supplement their income for a limited period. 
  • Rehabilitative spousal support – awarded to a spouse who requires education, training, work experience, etc. to increase the ability to earn income and become self-sufficient.
  • Indefinite spousal support – generally awarded only in long-term marriages where a spouse cannot become self-sufficient due to age, disability, or other issues.
  • Lump-sum spousal support – awarded to a spouse instead of or as well as other support and generally payable in a single payment or several installments. Lump sum alimony awards are not typically awarded by the courts, but rather are agreed to by the parties as part of a settlement agreement.

How does the court decide on the duration of alimony?

The New Mexico courts do not simply award alimony. It must first be requested by one of the spouses during a divorce proceeding.

The amount and duration of support can greatly affect the ongoing financial situation of both the paying spouse and the recipient. Consequently, the courts will consider a range of factors before determining the length of the spousal support arrangement.

As you have seen, alimony payments can be ordered for a set period of time or be indefinite. The duration of payments is normally dependent upon:

  • The duration of the marriage
  • The financial need of the alimony recipient
  • The normal standard of living/lifestyle of the recipient spouse 
  • The ability of the recipient to earn (according to employment history, training, education, etc.)
  • Other relevant circumstances of the recipient
  • The ability to pay for the paying spouse

Alimony is not a punishment. It is determined solely on the needs, rights and financial circumstances of each spouse and is not influenced by how the marriage ended or “marital fault”.

Nor are alimony payments connected to child support payments or custodial arrangements. Child custody and child support are treated as entirely separate issues by the New Mexico courts.

Note that if a marriage lasts less than five years, no spousal support may be awarded. If it is ordered by the court, it is likely to be only a temporary arrangement.

How long must alimony be paid for?

While both the amount and duration of spousal support payments are discussed at length in the New Mexico statutes, there are no clear guidelines as to how long alimony should be required in particular cases. 

The most practical approach to dealing with the duration of alimony payments is to pay close attention to the parties’ need for and ability to pay alimony, with special consideration as to how these factors will be impacted over time. For example, it might make sense for alimony to continue until the receiving spouse is entitled to receive a pension or social security payments. In transitional and rehabilitative support arrangements, a cue for discontinuing alimony payments may be the remarriage or cohabitation of the receiving spouse, for instance. Some attorneys argue that alimony should be paid for half the length of the marriage, though that is not the law in New Mexico

If no end date is specified (which is rare) alimony payments must continue indefinitely or until the death of the supported spouse, unless ordered otherwise by the court.

Modifications of spousal support

Spousal support orders issued by the New Mexico courts are fully enforceable. If the paying spouse tries to avoid making payments, wages can be garnished.

If, however, circumstances change substantially (for instance, the paying spouse becomes unemployed and struggles to find alternative employment) modifications to the original spousal support order can be requested by returning to court. 

A judge can review an order for rehabilitative, transitional, or indefinite spousal support awards. Lump-sum support orders cannot be modified.

In cases where couples have a pre-existing agreement that spousal support is non-modifiable, the original order will remain in place. 

Spousal support issues in New Mexico?

If you need legal assistance with a spousal support claim or a modification to spousal support, start with a free case evaluation with one of the attorneys at New Mexico Legal Group. Call 505.876.9175.