The laws regarding spousal support, or alimony, vary from state to state. However, pursuant to a divorce, typically one spouse is ordered to support the other spouse based on the need of the recipient and other party's ability to pay. Awards can be lump sums, continue for a specified period of time or last indefinitely. In deciding whether to award permanent alimony, a court will take a broad look at the parties' circumstances.
Courts have broad discretion in determining the length of alimony awards once they decide that you need and should receive it. Instead of awarding permanent alimony, courts sometimes award "rehabilitative" alimony. This type of support lasts for a specified time to allow the dependent spouse to become self-supporting, often by furthering her education or with vocational training. In some jurisdictions, a spouse may only receive permanent alimony if rehabilitation is impossible. Rehabilitative alimony is more likely to be awarded in the context of a late-in-life marriage or a marriage of relatively short duration.
Duration of the Marriage
While the specific factors a court considers when awarding alimony vary by jurisdiction, it is common for judges to place great emphasis on the duration of a marriage in deciding whether or not to award alimony on a permanent basis. If your marriage lasted for multiple decades, and you stayed home to raise children, your chances of receiving permanent alimony become greater. Homemaker spouses in long marriages have generally foregone career opportunities and structured their lives in reliance upon the marriage. Often they have done so to foster their spouses' careers. Generally, most courts believe that the longer you were married to your spouse, the more entrenched you became in a certain lifestyle and the harder it will be to reach a level where you can be self-supporting.
Age and Health Factors
Courts also commonly consider your age and physical and mental health. Just as these factors increase the amount of alimony you need, they also increase the length of time you're likely to receive it. If you have a permanent disability that hinders your employability and that can't be overcome with appropriate education or vocational training, you may be more likely to receive alimony on a permanent basis.
Modification or Termination
Even if a court does award alimony on a permanent basis, it still might not end up being truly permanent. Like child custody or child support, a party can generally petition the court to modify, or change, the terms of the award. Modifications of alimony awards must be based on substantial and material changes of circumstances affecting either the paying spouse's ability to pay or the receiving spouse's need for support. In some situations -- such as your remarriage or moving in with a romantic partner -- a court can terminate alimony no matter how much you may continue to need it.