Spousal support, also known as alimony, can be one of the most complex and contentious issues in a California divorce. Determining whether you will pay or receive support, how much it will be, and for how long can have major financial implications.
It’s important to understand California law regarding spousal support before beginning the divorce process. Here is an in-depth guide on everything you need to know about this critical topic.
What is Spousal Support?
Spousal support refers to payments made from one spouse to the other after separation or divorce. There are two main types:
- Temporary spousal support – Support ordered while a divorce is pending. It helps maintain living standards for both spouses.
- Permanent spousal support – Also called “post-divorce judgment” support. Provides income after divorce is finalized.
Spousal support serves different purposes depending on whether it is temporary or permanent.
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Purpose of Temporary Spousal Support
Temporary support is intended to preserve the financial status quo for both spouses while a divorce is being finalized.
It allows the lower-earning spouse to maintain the same standard of living and prevents drastic lifestyle changes before issues like asset division are resolved.
Courts determine temporary support by looking at factors like:
- The earning capacity of each spouse
- Monthly expenses
- Child support obligations
- Debt payments
- Healthcare costs
Temporary support sustains the supported spouse until permanent support and property division are ordered.
Purpose of Permanent Spousal Support
Permanent support serves a different purpose than temporary.
Its goal is to provide financial assistance to the supported spouse after divorce so they can meet their needs and maintain the marital standard of living.
Courts want to ensure divorced spouses transition to self-sufficiency within a reasonable time. Permanent support provides income until the receiving spouse can become self-supporting.
Factors considered for permanent support include:
- The earning capacity of both spouses
- Job skills and education
- Child support obligations
- Health issues
- Standard of living during marriage
- Length of marriage
Permanent support is decided based on the supported spouse’s needs and ability to become self-reliant.
How Long Does Spousal Support Last?
The duration of spousal support depends partially on the length of the marriage.
For marriages under 10 years, support generally lasts for half the marriage length. For an 8-year marriage, support would likely be ordered for 4 years.
Also For marriages over 10 years, permanent support lasts indefinitely. There is no set termination date unless the supported spouse remarries or the paying spouse retires.
However, the goal is for the supported spouse to become self-supporting within a reasonable time, usually half the marriage length.
So for a 15-year marriage, the receiving spouse should work toward financial independence within 5-7 years.
How Much Spousal Support is Owed?
Determining the amount of spousal support requires examining the incomes and expenses of both spouses.
For temporary support, California courts use formulas like the Santa Clara Guideline. This sets support at 40% of the paying spouse’s net income, minus half the receiving spouse’s income.
Calculating permanent support is more complex. California law requires judges to review 14 different factors, including:
- Earning capacity and income of both spouses
- Job skills and education
- Health and age
- Debts and assets
- Tax consequences
- Standard of living during marriage
- Duration of marriage
- Childcare responsibilities
The goal is for the paying spouse to provide enough support for the receiving spouse to meet their reasonable needs.
Modifying or Ending Spousal Support
If there is a substantial change in circumstances, either spouse can request the court to modify or terminate spousal support.
Common reasons for modification include:
- Job loss or change in income
- Illness or disability
- Receiving spouse cohabitating
- Failure to make diligent efforts to become self-supporting
Proving a change in circumstances requires detailed financial records and often testimony from vocational experts. Hiring an experienced family law attorney is highly recommended for spousal support modification proceedings.
Spousal support also ends if the receiving spouse remarries or if a supporting spouse reaches retirement age.
Impact of Domestic Violence
California law states that domestic violence can be grounds for denying or reducing spousal support.
If there is documented evidence of violence perpetrated by the paying spouse, courts can terminate support obligations.
A divorce attorney can advise whether domestic abuse might impact spousal support orders in your case.
Hiring a Divorce Lawyer
Navigating spousal support can be extremely complicated, especially when other issues like child custody and asset division are involved.
Working with an experienced family law attorney is highly recommended to protect your rights regarding support.
Key attorney responsibilities include:
- Advising whether you are entitled to temporary or permanent support
- Estimating reasonable support amounts
- Gathering financial records to determine support
- Negotiating fair support terms
- Drafting and filing support motions
- Representing you at hearings
- Modifying support if circumstances change
Going through a divorce without professional legal counsel can put you at a major disadvantage when spousal support is involved. Be sure to contact a qualified divorce lawyer to safeguard your interests.
Frequently Asked Questions about Spousal Support in California
How much spousal support will I have to pay or receive?
The amount of spousal support depends on many factors like income, expenses, debts, assets, and the ability to become self-supporting. For temporary support, courts use formulas based on percentages of income. Permanent support is calculated by examining individual financial circumstances. An experienced family law attorney can help estimate potential support amounts.
How long will I have to pay or receive spousal support?
The duration depends partially on the length of the marriage. For marriages under 10 years, support generally lasts for half the marriage length. For marriages over 10 years, permanent spousal support may continue indefinitely. However, the goal is for the supported spouse to become financially independent within a reasonable time, usually half the marriage length.
Can I modify my spousal support order?
Yes, if you have a substantial change in circumstances like the loss of a job, you can request the court to modify the amount of support ordered. You will need to provide evidence like tax returns and pay stubs to prove the change warrants adjusting support.
What if my supported ex-spouse remarries or cohabitates?
If your ex-spouse remarries or lives with a new partner, you can request termination of spousal support. Courts generally end support when the supported spouse forms a new domestic partnership.
What if I lose my job during the divorce process?
If you lose your job while a divorce is pending, you can request a modification of temporary spousal support based on the change in income. The court will adjust support to reflect your new financial circumstances.
What if my spouse was abusive during our marriage?
If you have evidence of domestic violence, the court may deny or reduce spousal support on that basis. Consult an attorney about whether abuse in your case could impact spousal support orders.
If your marriage was over 10 years, then it’s likely spousal support will be ordered for an indefinite period.
And if your spouse has a much higher earning capacity than you, then you have a good case for receiving spousal support.
If you lose your job during the divorce, then you can request a modification of temporary support based on changed income.
If your spouse has substantial assets or income sources, then the court may order higher spousal support payments.
Also if you quickly remarry after divorce, then your ex-spouse can request termination of spousal support obligations.
If there was domestic violence in your marriage, then you may be able to end spousal support on that basis.
And if you fail to make efforts to become self-supporting, then spousal support could extend longer.
If your expenses and debts are very high, then you’ll want detailed records to justify higher support.
Also if your spouse’s income decreases after divorce, then they could petition to lower support payments.
If there is child custody and support involved, then spousal support calculations become more complicated.
Understanding the basics of spousal support in California can help you prepare for what to expect during your divorce.
The key points to keep in mind include:
- Temporary support to maintain the status quo
- Permanent support to facilitate independence
- Duration depends on the length of the marriage
- Amount based on income and needs
- Courts want self-sufficiency within a reasonable time
- Can modify support with changed circumstances
- Domestic violence can eliminate support
- Work with an +experienced divorce attorney
While receiving or paying spousal support may be stressful, an attorney can help guide you through the process to reach a fair outcome. With proper legal advice, you can move forward with your new life after divorce.