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Understanding California Spousal Support

What is Spousal Support? 

Spousal support – often referred to as alimony – is generally a court-mandated requirement for one spouse to pay another spouse a set amount of money each month. Domestic partners may also be responsible for partner support at the end of a California domestic partnership. Spousal support may only be awarded after a spouse files a civil claim in court. Grounds for spousal support claims may include:

  • Divorce;
  • Annulment;
  • Legal separation; or
  • Domestic violence.

When Can I Get Spousal Support?

Spousal support may be awarded while a claim is on-going and/or after the court makes a final determination.

Temporary Spousal Support Orders are granted by a judge while a claim for spousal support is pending. Judges are permitted to use a formula to determine the amount of the temporary order. The formula varies with each local jurisdiction. Generally speaking, however, the formula may be something similar to 40% of the paying spouse’s net income reduced by 50% of the receiving spouse’s net income. Calculations are made after any claims for child support are paid.

Long-Term Spousal Support Orders are granted by a judge at the close of a civil case. The Order becomes a permanent part of the divorce, annulment, or separation. The court is not permitted to use a formula to determine the amount of the spousal support award. Instead, they must weigh factors outlined in California law.

How Is Long-Term Spousal Support Calculated?

Judges reviewing spousal support requests are required to consider and weigh 14 factors outlined in California Family Code Section 4320. Some of these factors include:

  • The length of the marriage or domestic partnership;
  • The age and health of the spouses;
  • The amount necessary to sustain the standard of living the spouses became accustomed to during the marriage;
  • The ability of each spouse to pay for the standard of living they became accustomed to during the marriage;
  • Whether having a child would making caring for children too difficult;
  • Debts and property of the spouses;
  • Whether one spouse helped the other obtain job training, education, or licensing; and
  • Effect of taxation on any spousal support.

Calculating the Ability to Support the Standard of Living

Courts will determine the standard to living to which the spouses grew accustomed by reviewing how the couple lived. This may include reviewing financial habits, purchases, locations lived in, the school(s) any children attended, hobbies, vacations, and whether one or both spouses worked to support the lifestyle.

In reviewing a spouse’s ability to maintain this standard of living – especially if one spouse committed much of his or her time to childcare – a judge will review marketable skills, the time and expense that would be required to obtain new marketable skills, and the extent to which (any) unemployment was attributable to childcare.

How Long Do Orders for Spousal Support Last?

The purpose of spousal support is to provide a spouse with the financial resources necessary to retain the standard of living to which they grew accustomed during the marriage and allow them to become financially independent “within a reasonable period of time.” Judges often look at the length of the marriage to determine when an order can be terminated.  Generally, support for marriages of less than 10 years will be awarded for half of the length of the marriage. There is no set length for awards of support for marriages exceeding 10 years in length.

How Can an Order of Spousal Support Be Terminated?

Terminating an order of spousal support can be done in four ways:

  1. The spousal support order for a marriage lasting less than 10 years expires;
  2. A subsequent court order revokes the award;
  3. One of the spouses dies; or
  4. The receiving spouse remarries.

Avoiding Court – Spousal Support Agreements

Spouses going through the throes of a divorce or separation may be able to avoid costly and tiresome alimony battles in court if they can mutually agree to terms of spousal support. Spouses can independently (or with the assistance of an experienced family law attorney) outline the terms of the agreement, including:

  • Amount of monthly payments;
  • How payments will be made;
  • When payments will terminate.

The spousal support is documented on an official court form, signed by both spouses and a judge, and then filed with the county clerk. The spousal support agreement is then binding on the paying spouse.

Experienced Family Law Attorney

If you are interested in learning more about California spousal support, contact our experienced family law attorneys today. When you call, we will review your case, explain your legal rights, and determine the best course of legal action. Claims and orders for spousal support can be complicated – let our experienced California family law attorneys help you navigate the process.