In California, spousal support (also known as alimony) is commonly awarded when divorce leaves one spouse at an economic disadvantage. This can happen under circumstances like the following:
- One spouse leaves the workforce early in the marriage to raise a family or support the other’s career.
- One spouse works only part-time to bring in extra income while the children are in school, and can’t maintain their current standard of living on their own.
If this is your situation, it is normal to worry. How will you meet your basic expenses, let alone maintain the lifestyle you had before the divorce?
Spousal support can help you maintain financial stability as you move forward. In this blog, the family lawyers at the Law Office of Renkin & Associates explain your spousal support options after divorce in California and how an experienced attorney can help.
An Overview of Spousal Support
In California, spousal support may be awarded during divorce proceedings when one spouse makes the request and there is a significant difference in each party’s earnings or potential earnings. If granted, the lower-income spouse receives a monthly payment that helps them cover reasonable routine expenses and maintain financial security.
Although spousal support is not awarded as routinely today, it tends to be more common in high net-worth divorces, particularly when significant assets are involved and one spouse stayed at home with the children or sacrificed their own career goals to support their higher-earning spouse.
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Spousal support can be a contentious aspect of divorce. Your spouse may tell you to “get a job” or insist that they’ll only provide financial support for the children. If this happens to you, getting quality legal representation is critical because judges have broad discretion when deciding whether to order spousal support. A skilled California divorce lawyer can help you protect your rights and future.
Temporary Spousal Support
In the early stages of a divorce or legal separation, spousal support may be awarded on a temporary basis. This support, which is governed by California Family Code §3600, is meant to provide financial assistance to the lower-earning spouse until a judgment is issued.
The court can order any amount of temporary support that you and your spouse agree on. However, if you cannot agree, the judge will order an amount based on commonly-used guidelines. In San Diego, there are two alimony calculators:
- The Alameda Guideline, which has a presumptive payment amount of 40% of the paying spouse’s net monthly income minus 50% of the recipient spouse’s income. Child support payments factor into the calculation.
- The Santa Clara Guideline, which could require your spouse to pay up to 40% of their net monthly income. If they are already paying child support, spousal support calculations take this obligation into account.
Your San Diego alimony lawyer can explain these calculators to you in more detail so you better understand your rights and your spouse’s obligations until a final order is made.
Permanent Spousal Support
‘Permanent’ support refers to alimony paid after a divorce is finalized. Although there are exceptions, this support doesn’t last indefinitely. As a general rule, the payments will continue until the supported spouse obtains the training or education they need to become financially independent.
A judge will usually begin by assuming that if a marriage lasts less than ten years, support will be provided for half of that time. For example, if you were married for eight years, you could potentially receive spousal support for four.
For long-term marriages, there’s no similar assumption. In this case, the court will typically use the guidelines outlined in California Family Code section 4320, which are as follows:
- The length of the marriage.
- The age and health of each spouse.
- Each spouse’s needs based on the standard of living established during the marriage.
- Your spouse’s ability to pay support based on their assets, earning capacity, income, and standard of living.
- Any financial hardship to either spouse.
- Your marketable skills. If there isn’t a job market for them, how long will it take to get appropriate education or training / retraining?
- Whether you contributed to your spouse’s education, training, or career.
- Whether you took time off to raise a family.
- Your ability to maintain gainful employment without unduly impacting your parental duties.
- Each spouse’s assets and debts / obligations.
- Any immediate and specific tax consequences to both spouses.
- If there has ever been domestic violence in the marriage.
- Whether you have been convicted of abusive actions toward your spouse.
- Any other factors the court finds just and equitable.
It should be noted that even if your marriage is long-term, it doesn’t mean that you’ll automatically receive spousal support for the rest of your life. Depending on your case, the court could set your support at zero, which effectively eliminates it moving forward. Your divorce lawyer can advise you whether this may be a possibility for your case.
How is Spousal Support Paid in California?
Spousal support may be paid directly through a monthly bank deposit or check, or it may involve indirect payment methods, such as paying the recipient spouse’s rent or monthly bills. It does not include any voluntary payments above the scope of the divorce decree.
What is Reservation of Spousal Support?
In California, reservation of spousal support is a court order that reserves the right to request spousal support in the future, even if it is not awarded at the time of divorce. This means that the spouse who did not receive alimony at the time of divorce can request it in the future if their circumstances change, such as the loss of a job or a significant change in income.
It is important to note that the right to request spousal support under a reservation order does not guarantee that it will be awarded. The requesting spouse must still meet the legal requirements for support, and the court will consider various factors in determining whether spousal support should be granted.
Modifying a Spousal Support Order in California
After a permanent spousal support order is made, it can only be modified if circumstances change. What’s more, it must be a substantial and material change, such as:
- Job loss
- An increase or decrease in income
- A change in child custody arrangements
- Military deployment
For example, if your former spouse loses their job, the court may temporarily decrease the payments you receive until they find new employment. Regardless of the reason, you’ll need to obtain a court order.
Note: Some awards appear to provide for non-modifiable support. In most cases, these clauses are not as straightforward as they appear, so speak to a lawyer before presuming that you can’t seek a modification.
When Does Spousal Support End?
Under California Family Code Section 4337, spousal support automatically ends when either party dies or the supported spouse remarries. However, your spouse may be able to terminate the payments if they can show an acceptable change in circumstances, such as:
- Payor’s income has decreased for reasons out of their control, such as illness.
- You have become financially self-sufficient.
- Death of the payor
- Remarriage of the payee
You and your spouse can agree on a support termination date during settlement negotiations. If you can’t reach an accord, the court will make that determination. This isn’t always a straightforward process, as no formulas are involved, but your spousal support lawyer will seek an outcome that protects your financial future as much as possible.
Do You Have Questions About Spousal Support Options in California?
When you’re facing divorce, especially after a long-term marriage, you’re going to worry about your financial stability. Spousal support payments can help you meet your expenses and obligations until you’re in a better position.
At the Law Office of Renkin & Associates, our spousal support lawyers provide solid representation to those seeking alimony during divorce. We will listen to you, understand your needs, and seek an outcome that meets them. To learn more, please call 866-228-7116 or request an appointment online today.