Spousal support, sometimes called alimony, is periodic payments that one ex-spouse makes to another to assist with living expenses. Alimony came about during a time when women generally did not work and, in the event of divorce, would have no means of support other than government or charitable assistance. In recent years, with changes in family work patterns and more equality in the job market, states have set up spousal support systems that are more in line with the times. Divorce lawyers in California work with their clients to navigate these complex calculations. A family law attorney will show the court that his or her client needs the most amount of support while the other side has the ability to pay as much as possible.
A San Diego divorce lawyer will tell you that under California law, awarding spousal support is not mandatory. The court, in its discretion, may determine that the separating spouses will be able to support themselves after divorce. While the court can order spousal support, often a divorced couple can work this out through negotiation and mediation.
Spousal Support Factors
Whether to award spousal support is determined by a number of factors:
- The ability of the newly single spouses to maintain their former marital standard of living based on earning capacities.
- Contributions made by one spouse to the other spouse’s education and training that enhance the spouse’s current earning capacity.
- The supporting spouse’s ability to pay based on his or her earned and unearned income, assets, earning capacity and standard of living at the time of the support hearing.
- The needs of each party. These include more than the bare necessities of life. Divorce lawyers argue fiercely about what “needs” are for each spouse.
- The couple’s assets and debts, including the separate property of each spouse and assets allocated from the community property division. In addition, the court will consider the reasonable income potential from the assets (such as a farm) and may require the withholding of support altogether or a termination of previously awarded support based on the income potential.
- Whether the duration of marriage establishes the need for support, as well as the amount and duration of the support. The longer a spouse has been unemployed during the marriage pursuant to the family arrangement (as a stay-at-home mom, for example), the stronger the case will be for granting support to the nonworking spouse. This is because it will be harder for the nonworking spouse to re-enter the work force. However, a relatively short marriage can offset the need and justify a lower level of support or a shorter support term.
- The needs of the children, separate from child support. If one spouse takes on the burden of primary care for the children, that will limit the spouse’s ability to find full-time employment.
- The age and health of each spouse. A divorce attorney will show that an older spouse has fewer opportunities to work and support herself.
- Documented history of domestic violence.
- The relative hardship to each party.
- History of domestic violence. If a spouse was convicted of domestic violence in criminal court, it is almost certain that there will be liability for spousal support.
- Other “just and equitable” factors, as determined by the court.
After the marriage ends, spousal support may be modified if there are significant changes in circumstance. A divorce lawyer in San Diego can work with folks who are already divorced and may require a new spousal support arrangement.
How Long Does Spousal Support Last?
Whether spousal support is ordered, and for how long, depends on many things, but the length of the marriage is one of the top considerations. Those who were married more than 10 years may be awarded spousal support indefinitely. Temporary orders for spousal support are the most common.
If the person who is asked to pay spousal support requests it, his or her San Diego divorce lawyer can help negotiate terms for spousal support to present to the judge or the other spouse. If the person asking for support is healthy enough, he or she will often be asked to work toward establishing a career in order to limit or eliminate the need for spousal support. It’s up to the judge to decide what a reasonable amount of time is. While there is not a set formula, many use half the length of the marriage as a starting point. If there is a fixed term, support obligations will end at the end of the term unless there is further evidence that will justify an extension.
Both Sides of the Spousal Support Coin
When one spouse asks for support payments, the other spouse is often in disagreement as to whether the payments should be paid at all or the amount that should be paid. The person paying support can legally question his or her ex’s need for support at any time. For example, the ex may have accepted a high-paying job or married someone wealthy. The person paying support may also experience unexpected financial difficulties where he or she cannot afford to make payments.
If this happens, it is important that the spouse making payments ask the court to reconsider the spousal support amount rather than simply not making the payments. If back support is owed, interest will be added onto the payments, and it is possible that person could be subject to wage garnishment. They can even be found to be in contempt of court, which could result in jail time. A family law attorney can help someone who has a hard time making the support payment present their case as to why the order should be revisited.
Spousal support is sometimes nearly inevitable, or it can be a tough fight. Often, a divorce attorney will suggest possible stipulations or requirements to which the person receiving support must agree to in order to receive payments, such as pursuing an educational opportunity. Divorce lawyers might also suggest that the support can only continue if they remain in the state, especially if there are kids, or that a new marriage will void the order.
Contact San Diego Family Law Attorney Richard M. Renkin
Attorney Renkin provides experienced representation for child custody matters in the San Diego area. He is also a trained family law mediator. If you have questions about any type of child custody matter, feel free to call (619) 299-7100, or contact the Law Office of Renkin & Associates online today.