What’s the Difference Between Alimony vs. Spousal Support?

Hossein Berenji, Nov 02, 2020

When a couple separates or divorces, financial support is a common concern. Transitioning from a two-income household to a one-income household can create a financial hardship. For spouses who worked in the home, they might not have the skills, education, or experience to find a job that supports them or maintains their current standard of living.

Spousal support or alimony is a payment from one spouse to another spouse. It is intended to assist a spouse who did not work during the marriage or earns much less than the other spouse in providing for their financial needs after the divorce.

Is There a Difference Between Alimony and Spousal Support?

No, there is no difference between the terms. They are synonymous and mean the same thing. Alimony is an older, outdated term that is often associated with men supporting women.

However, spousal support has nothing to do with gender. It refers to a spouse with the means and resources helping to “support” the other spouse after a divorce. Spousal support focuses on income and earning potential instead of gender roles.

In some states, alimony was also tied to fault. If a spouse was “at fault” for the marriage breakup, the court might be more inclined to order alimony payments because the “innocent” spouse suffered because of the wrongdoing committed by the at-fault spouse.

California is a no-fault state for divorces. You do not need to prove that your spouse did something to break up the marriage. You can obtain a divorce by stating that you no longer want to be married.

With the change in the divorce laws, spousal support seemed to be a more appropriate term for describing financial support between the divorced parties. However, many people continue to use the word alimony instead of spousal support.

Who Can Seek Spousal Support in California?

A person may seek spousal support during a legal separation, divorce, domestic violence cases, and annulments. Spousal support is available for spouses, domestic partners, same-sex spouses, and former spouses.

A judge may grant temporary, long-term, or permanent spousal support based on the case’s facts. The amount of spousal support depends on numerous factors.

How Much Spousal Support Will I Receive?

Many of the judges in California use a formula for calculating temporary spousal support. Information about temporary support calculations can be found in a county’s local court rules.

When judges determine final spousal support, the judge must consider the factors outlined in California Family Code §4320.

Some of the factors include, but are not limited to:

  • The duration of the marriage or domestic partnership
  • The age, health, and earning capacity of each person
  • The standard of living enjoyed by the spouses during the marriage
  • The needs of each person
  • The resources and income of each person
  • Whether a spouse might need additional education, training, and skills to obtain a job
  • Marital and separate property and debts

The duration of the marriage impacts how long spousal support continues after the divorce. In most cases, spousal support continues for no longer than one-half of the duration of the marriage when the parties were married less than ten years.

The court may or may not set a termination date for spousal support for parties married for ten or more years. However, support terminates if the spouse receiving support remarries or is cohabiting with a lover. You would need to petition the court to stop alimony and prove that your ex-partner is cohabiting with a lover instead of remarrying to avoid terminating support payments.

Also, the paying spouse may retire at age 65 and is no longer obligated to pay spousal support. If your financial situation changes, you can petition the court to ask for a modification of spousal support payments. You may petition the court to end long-term spousal support if your ex-partner becomes self-supporting.

When Should I Talk to a Family Law Attorney About Spousal Support?

As soon as possible! Spousal support payments can significantly impact your finances, whether you are receiving or paying alimony. Learning about your rights and options as early as possible helps you make decisions that are in your best interest and the best interest of your children.

Understanding spousal support also helps you plan for your financial well being after the divorce. Estimating your support payments allows you to create a budget and locate a place to live within your budget.

Because there is no standard formula for determining when and how much spousal support is justified, you need to work with an experienced spousal support lawyer. Your lawyer understands the legal process, and the evidence used to get you the spousal support you deserve after your divorce.