Spousal Support in California

When going through a divorce, one person may be eligible for spousal support from their partner. This can be temporary support whereby one spouse makes payments to the other for them to maintain the status quo during the divorce proceedings and before everything is finalized. Then there is “permanent” spousal support, or alimony (these terms are interchangeable) this is meant to help maintain the marital standard of living for the supported spouse during the duration of the support order. The supported spouse will also need to be making all good faith efforts to be self-supporting during this time. Often during a divorce, one spouse has been out of the workforce and they cannot quickly reintegrate and find employment, and maintain their lifestyle. Therefore, spousal support laws aim to prevent one spouse from suffering a decrease in the marital standard of living.

Not all cases require or include a party to pay either temporary or permanent spousal support. If it is a part of a divorce it can immediately become one of the biggest expenses incurred. Spousal support can last for years, so every adjustment can mean a difference of thousands of dollars. To calculate spousal support, you can settle out of court or pursue litigation. Temporary spousal support in California is calculated by a formula, while “permanent” support is not. “Permanent” spousal support is determined by the weighing of several factors, so while settling out of court may save you legal fees in the short term, the long-term effects of a spousal support agreement that does not include the analysis of the factors or is not litigated could cause you to lose money in the long run. By pursuing litigation, the terms of support will be much firmer. Spousal earning capacity can be established by the testimony of a licensed vocational counselor, arrangements for making modifications, or termination of support in the case of a change in income for either party and the paying spouse will be able to hash out their payment in accordance with all aspects of their income.

There are numerous factors to consider in determining spousal support. Things like the final division of the assets and debts, the marital standard of living, upcoming retirement, remarriage, and self-employment can affect spousal support amounts while something like a prospective raise cannot. Similarly, since California is a no-fault state, any affairs your partner may have had are not taken into consideration when deciding support unless they are cohabitating with another partner, which may merit a decrease in their need for support.

In addition to the amount per month that is paid, the duration of spousal support payments also needs to be determined. A general rule of thumb is that payments will last for half the length of a marriage that lasted less than ten years. If the marriage lasted longer than ten years the court can not set a time limit for spousal support absent an agreement by the parties. In this case, the burden to prove that spousal support is no longer necessary will fall on the party who pays support.

In total, spousal support is something that can weigh heavily on divorce proceedings. For the paying spouse, it can be a large expense on top of divorce proceedings that needs to be realized and for the unemployed spouse, it can save them a large financial burden in the long run. If you find yourself in a position where you may need to receive or pay spousal support, taking the proceedings for support to court may seem like a hassle in the short-term, but the long-term effects of such a significant part of a divorce can make the extra court proceedings worth it.


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