Alimony is also known as spousal support. Alimony is a court-ordered payment that is made by one spouse to another during a legal separation or divorce. These payments are usually made on a regular schedule, such as monthly. Alimony payments are made separately from any child support payments.

In some legal separation or divorce cases, a judge determines that one spouse should financially support the other even if they will no longer be married. This may be done so a spouse can maintain the lifestyle they had prior to the divorce. 

Rehabilitative alimony may also be ordered to allow a spouse time to become financially stable. This usually occurs when a spouse chose to leave the workforce to raise a family or support the other spouse’s career goals. This type of alimony may also be ordered in cases where a spouse was dependent on the other spouse to pay their living expenses.

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

In many cases, once the spouse is able to support themselves, the alimony payments terminate. In cases where alimony was ordered to allow a spouse to maintain their previous standard of living, that alimony terminates if they remarry. 

The amount of alimony a spouse may receive is determined by several factors. These include the previous lifestyle of the spouses and the ability of a spouse to make payments to the other spouse. Alimony is intended to be used to cover the basic needs of the former spouse such as shelter, food, clothing and transportation.

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. It is important to continue making alimony payments until the court orders they are no longer necessary.

Are There Different Types of Alimony?

Yes, as noted above, there are different types of alimony. In general, alimony payments are made on a monthly basis. The three main types are:

  • Rehabilitative alimony – intended to support a spouse until they are financially stable again;
  • Permanent alimony – intended to last indefinitely until some life changing event such as death or remarriage occurs; and
  • Temporary alimony – intended to last a specific amount of time, usually during the period between the divorce being filed and finalized.

How is Alimony Calculated? 

Alimony is calculated by the courts during the divorce proceedings. The court will decide whether a spouse is eligible for alimony, how much they should receive, and how long the payments should last. Many states follow the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act (UMDA) to determine the amount of alimony payments. 

Factors considered under the UMDA include:

  • Whether the couple was legally married;
  • The length of the marriage;
  • How much each spouse contributed to the marital assets;
  • The financial background of each spouse;
  • The earning capacity of each spouse at the time of divorce;
  • Any child custody issues;
  • Whether or not either spouse has remarried;
  • Whether either spouse is cohabitating with a new partner; and
  • The age and health of each spouse.

How Do You Qualify for Alimony?

The court will determine who qualifies for alimony and how much they should receive. The court will consider how much income each spouse can make to maintain a standard of living close to what they had during marriage. The court will consider factors such as:

  • The job skills of the spouse receiving support;
  • The job market available for the spouse receiving support;
  • Whether the spouse receiving support will need education or training to obtain marketable job skills;
  • The extent to which the earning capacity of the spouse receiving support was impaired during the times of the marriage where they were devoted to raising children or supporting the other spouse’s career; and
  • The length of the marriage.

In most cases, the longer the couple was married, the longer alimony payments will be ordered. For example, a court will likely order alimony payments for a longer period if a marriage lasted ten years than for a marriage that lasted six months.

What Is the Difference Between Alimony and Child Support in California?

There are differences between California alimony and child support. As noted above, alimony and child support payments are made separately. Alimony payments are made specifically for support of the spouse. 

Child support payments are made to support the necessary needs such as food, clothing and shelter of any children of the two individuals. Child support payments may be ordered in cases where two individuals were not previously married.

How Much is Alimony in California?

Alimony amounts vary greatly in each case and depend on several factors. California permits the court to consider many factors when determining the amount of alimony a spouse should receive. These include:

  • Length of the marriage;
  • Spouse’s needs based on the previous standard of living;
  • The other spouse’s ability to make payments;
  • Whether a spouse’s ability to work was affected by the presence of children;
  • The ages and health of both spouses;
  • Debt and property of the marriage;
  • Debt and property of the spouses separately;
  • Any tax considerations; and
  • Whether domestic violence was present during the marriage. 

How Long Can You Receive Alimony in California?

The length of time alimony payments can be received is determined by the court. Payments generally continue until one of the following events occurs:

  • The court orders termination of payments;
  • One of the spouses passes away;
  • The spouse receiving support remarries; and/or
  • The spouse receiving support is cohabitating with a new romantic partner.

In California, there is no limit to the amount of time alimony payments may be required. Courts will usually follow a guideline that requires alimony payments equal to half the length of a marriage if the marriage lasted ten years or less.

How Do You Petition for Alimony?

In order to receive alimony, a spouse must petition the court handing the legal separation or divorce case. Usually, this petition is included with a divorce complaint filing.

The spouse that will be paying the alimony must be legally served with notice. The paying spouse may not consent to make payments. In that case, the court will determine whether or not the alimony request should be ordered. The alimony request may be paid as regularly scheduled payments, often monthly, intervals or one lump sum.

Can Alimony Payments be Modified?

Yes, the spouse making alimony payments can request the alimony order be modified. However, the paying spouse should continue making the required payments until the order is modified by the court. Otherwise, the paying spouse may be held in contempt of court or be violating their court order.

If they wish to modify the order, the paying spouse should petition the court handling their divorce case. The paying spouse must show the court there has been a substantial change since the payments were ordered. This may include loss of a job, retirement, disability or an increase in the income of the receiving spouse.

Where Can You Find the Right Lawyer?

A California family lawyer can help you determine if you qualify for alimony and make sure you receive fair payments. Each state has specific laws regarding alimony so it is important to select an attorney familiar with your state laws. A family lawyer can assist you with an alimony request or modification and represent you at any court hearings.