My husband and I are happily married, and I am listed as his beneficiary on his life insurance and retirement accounts. He has also been divorced for about 25 years. He’s still paying her court-ordered spousal support every month because she hasn’t remarried or died.
The ex-wife was given half of his retirement funds when they divorced all those years ago. That much, I am aware of. However, he’s now retired. What I need to know is this: if he passes away, will she still be entitled to receiving spousal support from his estate?
Current Wife in California
Dear Current Wife,
I’m not privy to your husband’s divorce decree, but typically the spousal support — otherwise known as alimony — dies with the supporting spouse unless they have “otherwise agreed” another arrangement in writing. So the short (and happy) answer for you is “no.”
But — you may have seen that coming — there may be room for maneuver regarding how “otherwise agreed” is interpreted, according to Feinberg, Mindel, Brandt & Klein, a law firm based in Los Angeles. This is the advice the law firm gives to a theoretical ex-spouse.
“You should immediately contact your divorce lawyer and have him/her review the divorce decree to see whether there is language (or the absence of language) in the court’s order that would cause the obligation to continue after your ex’s death,” the law firm adds.
“‘As the old saying goes about money: You can’t take it with you, but in the case of alimony, it appears that you actually can.’”
Spousal support was traditionally introduced because one partner — typically, the wife — gave up her career and/or stayed home to raise the children. It has remained a key part of divorce negotiations in order to maintain the lower-earning spouse’s pre-divorce lifestyle.
Your husband’s situation seems unusual. In California, a community-property state, spousal support is often based on the length of the marriage. The Law Offices of Renkin & Associates in San Diego says “spousal support may be paid for up to half the length of a marriage that lasts 10 years or less.”
“Unions that lasted longer than 10 years are considered ‘long term,’ and no specific duration will apply,” it adds. “If the parties were separated at any point prior to divorce, the length of each separation period may be taken into account when deciding on a support award.”
Some hope for your husband: The divorce court may only modify your spousal support if he could demonstrate a material change in his circumstances. “The change must be substantial and material, such as a decrease in income,” the firm says.
A person is entitled to collect on an ex-spouse’s Social Security benefits if the marriage lasted 10 years or more, the collecting spouse did not remarry, and they are at least 62 years of age. It’s not uncommon for an ex-spouse to receive one-half of their former partner’s pension earned during the marriage.
Regardless of what happens with the spousal support, I wish you and your husband a long and happy life and retirement together, and I hope these alimony payments don’t impact it adversely. As the old saying goes about money: You can’t take it with you, but in the case of alimony, it appears that you actually can.
Readers write to me with all sorts of dilemmas.
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