Alimony, also known as spousal support, can be one of the most complex financial matters in a California divorce. When a couple splits up, alimony is money paid by one spouse to help support the other financially.
Understanding the ins and outs of how alimony works in California can help you make the best decisions for your situation in a divorce. This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know about California alimony.
Overview of Alimony in California
California courts determine alimony on a case-by-case basis considering factors like:
- Length of the marriage
- Standard of living established during marriage
- Income and earning capacities of each spouse
- Education levels and careers
- Health conditions and ages of each spouse
- Tax consequences
- Any other factors the court deems relevant
The purpose of alimony is to minimize any unfair economic effects of a divorce. Courts aim to keep spouses at a similar standard of living to during the marriage.
Types of Alimony in California
There are a few different types of alimony available in California:
Temporary Alimony – Short-term support ordered during the divorce proceedings. It helps cover living expenses before the final judgment.
Permanent Alimony – Indefinite alimony with no set termination date. It is ordered in long-term marriages where a spouse cannot become fully self-supporting.
Durational Alimony – Alimony paid for a pre-determined length of time. The duration depends on the length of the marriage.
Rehabilitative Alimony – Shorter-term alimony intended to help a spouse become self-sufficient by developing skills or education.
Reimbursement Alimony – Provides compensation for supporting the other spouse through school or career advancement.
How California Calculates Alimony
While each situation is different, courts typically calculate alimony based on the length of the marriage:
Less than 10 years – The court cannot order alimony for longer than the length of the marriage.
10 to 15 years – Alimony usually capped at 50% of the length of the marriage.
15 to 20 years – Alimony capped at 70% of the length of the marriage.
Over 20 years – The court has discretion to order permanent or durational alimony as appropriate.
Courts also consider the paying spouses’ ability to pay and set an amount that is ‘just and reasonable’. Gross or net income, earning capacity, and standard of living established during the marriage are considered.
Termination of Alimony in California
Alimony in California ends when:
- A former spouse receiving alimony remarries or enters into a domestic partnership.
- The supported spouse cohabits with a new partner, in certain circumstances.
- Either spouse passes away, though the estate may still have payment obligations.
- A durational alimony term expires.
- Certain conditions ordered by the court are met.
- The paying spouse retires after reaching full retirement age.
- Either spouse requests the court to modify or terminate alimony due to changed circumstances.
FAQs About California Alimony
How long does alimony last in California?
Duration depends on the length of the marriage and other circumstances. Permanent alimony has no set expiration but can be modified or terminated. Durational alimony lasts for a pre-determined period.
Can I get alimony and child support in California?
Yes, they are considered separately. Custodial parents can receive both child support and spousal support.
Can alimony be modified in California?
Yes, either spouse can request the court to modify alimony if financial circumstances significantly change.
Is California an alimony state?
Yes, California courts can award different types of spousal support to financially disadvantaged spouses in a divorce.
Making Spousal Support Payments in California
Once spousal support is ordered by the court, the paying spouse must begin making timely spousal support payments. Payments are often made monthly but can be bi-weekly or semi-monthly.
Failure to pay court-ordered spousal support in California can result in wage garnishment, property liens, or other collection actions. The paying spouse should inform the court immediately if they experience financial hardship meeting payments.
Some tips for making smooth spousal support payments include:
- Set up automatic transfers to the receiving spouse each month
- Keep thorough records of all payments made
- Only pay through traceable methods like check, wire transfer, or court payment system
Buying Out Spousal Support in California
In some cases, the paying spouse may offer to pay a lump sum buyout spousal support to permanently end ongoing payments. This can provide a clean break for both spouses.
If considering a spousal support buy in California, the receiving spouse should calculate the total future value of payments. This depends on factors like age, health, income levels, and support duration.
It is smart to consult a financial advisor when evaluating a spousal support buyout offer. The long-term security of a steady payment stream versus an upfront lump payment should be weighed carefully.
For example, in the 2020 case of Lee vs. Smith, the supported spouse agreed to a $500,000 lump sum payment to replace the $5,000 monthly spousal support owed for 6 more years. However, the deal did not account for future inflation, earning capacity changes, or other risks, so the judge ruled it inadequate and unfair.
Did You Know?
- Temporary spousal support may be ordered while a divorce is pending. This helps the lower-earning spouse cover living costs.
- The duration of permanent spousal support depends partly on whether the supported spouse can become fully self-supporting.
- Long-term spousal support may continue until the paying spouse retires or either spouse dies.
- California courts can order one spouse to pay support for half the length of a marriage under 10 years.
- Courts consider earning capacity, not just income. An unemployed supported spouse’s ability to earn may reduce alimony payments.
- A spouse’s age and health impact the need for ongoing financial assistance.
- Pay spousal support orders end if the supported spouse remarries or cohabits with a partner.
- A former spouse receiving support must show reasonable efforts to enter the job market if able.
- Supporting spouses can request a modification of a spousal support order if their finances decline.
- Hiding assets can lead courts to order higher spousal support payments.
- Domestic violence can be a factor in setting support. California law aims to prevent abuse victims needing support from former partners.
Consult an experienced family law attorney to understand how California divorce law addresses support and how courts determine how much spousal support is appropriate in your unique situation.
Navigating alimony in a California divorce can be challenging. While every situation is unique, understanding the different types of alimony, calculation formulas, and termination conditions allows you to make informed decisions.
Consulting with an experienced California family law attorney can help guide you through the alimony process and protect your financial interests.
With the right legal advice, you can reach a just and equitable spousal support arrangement in your divorce case.