Spousal support, also known as alimony, is a court-ordered requirement of one spouse to pay another during a divorce or legal separation. Spousal support payments are usually made on a schedule, such as once a month. These payments are different and separate from any child support payments.

There are different types of spousal support ordered by the court for different reasons. This includes rehabilitative alimony. This type of alimony is ordered so that a spouse can become financially stable again. In most cases, this is awarded when a spouse leaves the workforce to support the other spouse’s career or to raise children. This type of alimony may also be ordered when a spouse was totally dependent on the other spouse to pay for living expenses.

In some cases, the court will order permanent alimony. In these cases, the court determines that a spouse should financially support the other even if they will not be married. This is ordered so a spouse can maintain the lifestyle they had prior to the divorce or separation.

In other cases, the court may order temporary alimony. This is usually ordered for the duration of time between the initiating of the legal separation or divorce and the divorce becoming finalized.

Spousal support laws are in place in California to ensure that a separated or divorced spouse does not become impoverished. These laws also ensure the separated or divorced spouse does not become a burden on the state because they were depending on their spouse for income.

How Do You Qualify for Spousal Support?

The court determines who qualifies for spousal support and how much they should receive. The court will take into consideration the income of the spouses during the marriage and their standard of living. The court will also consider factors such as:

  • The skills of the spouse receiving support;
  • The job market available for the spouse receiving support;
  • If the spouse receiving support will need training or education;
  • How and to what extent the spouse receiving support was impaired while devoting time to raising children or supporting their spouse’s career; and
  • How long the couple was married.

Usually, the longer a couple was married, the longer alimony payments will last. For example, a court will likely order alimony payments for a longer period for a couple who was married ten years versus a couple only married for six months.

Does Spousal Support Terminate?

Yes, spousal support can terminate depending on the facts of the case and the type of spousal support ordered by the court. When rehabilitative alimony is awarded, the payments terminate when the spouse receiving payments is able to support themselves.

If permanent alimony was ordered, it can terminate in a number of ways. If the spouse receiving payments remarries, the spousal support terminates. The spousal support may also terminate if one of the spouses passes away.

Temporary alimony usually terminates when the divorce is finalized. It is important to continue making any spousal support payments ordered by the court until such time as the court orders the payments to be terminated.

California does not have a time limit on the duration of alimony payments. Courts usually follow the guideline that requires alimony payments equal to half the length of a marriage if the marriage lasted ten years or less.

If the alimony payments do not have a termination date, they must continue until the court rules they are no longer needed. Alimony orders can be changed, modified or terminated depending on the circumstances of each case.

How Is Spousal Support Determined During Divorce Proceedings in California?

While a divorce proceeding is underway in California, either spouse can request temporary spousal support. If ordered, the temporary spousal support will continue for the duration of the divorce proceedings. The court usually uses a formula to determine the amount of spousal support to be paid during this time. The formula used will differ by county and be governed by the local court rules.

How Is Spousal Support Calculated Once Divorce is Final?

There is no strict formula used to calculate spousal support. The court considers the following factors in determining the amount of support:

  • The number of years the marriage lasted;
  • The standard of living during the marriage;
  • How much each spouse contributed to marital assets;
  • The financial status of the spouse making payments;
  • The spouse’s ability to enter the workforce without impairing the children;
  • The age and health of each spouse;
  • Whether one spouse supported the other’s career needs, including education and training;
  • Whether domestic violence occurred during the marriage; and
  • Tax implications of spousal support.

Courts in California may also consider other factors deemed relevant to determine a fair amount of spousal support. The court may review what, if any, marketable job skills the parties have and take those into account. The court may also order one spouse to provide some type of security or collateral for the payment of spousal support.

While there is no set formula for the court to determine an amount of spousal support, a California spousal support calculator can be used to get a ballpark figure of what the ordered support may be. This calculator can be used by the court as a guideline to help determine what amount of spousal support to order.

How are Spousal Support Disputes Resolved?

There are a number of different types of spousal support disputes that may arise. These include:

  • Failure of a spouse to make the ordered monthly payment;
  • Disputes regarding the amount agreed upon;
  • A spouse requesting termination of spousal support;
  • The paying spouse concealing assets in an attempt to lower payments;
  • Disputes involving the children or other dependents; and/or
  • The receiving spouse hiding assets in an attempt to receive a higher payment.

Spousal support agreements should be supported by a court order to ensure they will be enforceable. An official spousal support order by the court may prevent some disputes in the future. If spouses choose to enter into a spousal support agreement, they should have it approved and ordered by the court.

If the spouses did not enter into an agreement and the spousal support was ordered by the court, any disputes will be handled by the court. As noted above, it is important to continue making any court ordered spousal support payments until such time as the court orders their termination.

Can Spousal Support Payments be Modified?

Yes, spousal support orders and payments can be modified. The paying spouse can request the spousal support order be modified due to a substantial change such as a job loss, retirement, and/or disability.

The paying spouse can also request a modification of the spousal support order if the income of the receiving spouse has increased. The paying spouse should continue making the ordered payments until the support order is modified by the court.

Should I Consult a California Family Law Attorney?

Divorce and legal separation can be a difficult and complicated time. Calculating alimony can be a complex and variable issue during a divorce or separation. A California family lawyer can assist you during times of divorce or legal separation to determine if you are eligible for spousal support.

A family lawyer can also assist you with all areas of your case, represent you during court proceedings and make sure your rights are protected and also after a divorce is finalized if you need to modify or terminate spousal support payments.