Spousal Support and Alimony

When two people get divorced a court may order one individual to pay a specific amount to help support the ex-spouse. This spousal support is called alimony. The purpose of alimony awards is to limit the unfair economic effects of a separation by providing money to a non-income earning (or lower income earning) spouse or partner. This page details CA’s basic laws (these apply to Orange County residents).

Specifically, this page covers:

  • Justifications
  • Types of Support
  • Factors the Court considers
  • How much can you get?
  • How long will the support last?
  • How to modify a support order
  • How to enforce an alimony order
  • Do you need a lawyer?

Justification for Support

Generally, there are three main justifications for spousal support payments. First, one spouse may have decided to pass up on a career to raise the family. Caring for children and the home takes away time that the individual could have used to pursue a career. For example, a 10-year stay-at-home mom will have a difficult time getting back on her feet without alimony. Second, is to provide the non-income earning spouse with the same standard of living that he or she maintained while married. Third, the spousal support is meant to give the former spouse some time to get trained to re-enter the workforce.

Types of Alimony

There are four types of support that can be ordered. The type that is ordered for your specific situation is dependent on the finances of your marriage.

Temporary alimony is also known as pendent lite support, which means “pending the litigation.” It is paid until a final order of divorce is entered or until an agreement is completed.

Permanent support is paid for an indefinite amount of time. This type of support ends when the payer/recipient dies or when either one gets remarried. However, it could be modified later on if there are significant changes in the life of either the payer or the recipient.[1]

Rehabilitative alimony is ordered for a set amount of time. The rehabilitative support is awarded to help a spouse “rehabilitate” himself or herself. During this period, he/she is expected to get job training, education, or job experience necessary to become more self-sufficient. In the final divorce document, it should say that the support needs to be reviewed later, to be continued, stopped, or changed.

Reimbursement spousal support is meant to “pay back” or reimburse a spouse in the case that certain expenses were incurred by the other spouse. An example would be if one spouse worked to help out the other spouse through law school, that working spouse might be able to get reimbursement support for the amount spent on building the other spouse’s career. Marvin v. Marvin

California law provides guidelines to ensure that neither of the spouses are left destitute, due to a divorce. Dividing a once combined household income in Orange County can be tough on both people involved. Making sure that fair financial orders are given when a couple splits up is a complex process.

Factors Considered in Determining the Amount Support

Spousal support is not a mandatory part of the divorce or separation process. Family Law Code § 4320 lists the factors that must be taken into consideration when determining the alimony award. We describe these factors in detail on this page. The basic factors to be considered are:[2]

  • How long was the couple was married
  • Ages and physical, mental, and emotional health of the spouses
  • The earning capacity each spouse
  • What debts each spouse carries independently, or together
  • The needs of each individual to be able to maintain the same standard of living as during the marriage
  • Marital misconduct, such as domestic violence, if applicable

If the couple has children, the effects on the child are also looked at. If one parent has primary custody of the children he or she may be prevented from working. On the other hand, if a supported spouse is convicted of domestic abuse, the support amount might get reduced or even eliminated.[3] Along those lines, the judge may even consider if the victim of domestic abuse experienced emotional distress. Alimony support is very different from child support.

Spousal Support & Alimony | OC Family Law Attorney

How Much Alimony Can I Get?

The amount of alimony is determined by the factors laid out in California Family Code § 4320. As previously mentioned, the judge’s intention is to help the spouses move on separately, without either one being put out in the rain. The court considers how much the two individuals need to have a lifestyle that is close to what they had during the marriage. Typically, a temporary spousal support order is 40% of the higher wage earner’s income, minus 50% of the other’s party’s income.

But every case is different and you should consult with a Orange County family law attorney before making any financial plans. Moreover, you should also consider the tax implications of support. Visit our “Is Alimony Taxable?” page. If you discover that your spouse is lying on their income and expense declaration, you should review this page.

How Long Does the Support Last?

Spousal support is only meant to help the spouses become self-supporting, so the judge would determine a reasonable period of time for that to happen. It is at the judge’s discretion to consider the variables to find what a reasonable period is. A marriage that was less than 10 years is considered short-term and the judge will likely order alimony for only a period of time. A marriage of longer length may get an order of indefinite spouse support.

We’ve written a blog post about lifetime alimony. Will you get it? Probably not.

How to Modify the Support Order

After a judge’s order, either spouse has the right to request modification to the support amount. You can even attempt to ending alimony. Reasons that one might request a change in support may be:

  • A spouse receiving an alimony award has a substantial increase in earnings
  • A spouse paying support has a substantial increase in income
  • A divorce law changed, constituting the change of circumstance that needs filing for modification
  • If a recipient cohabitates with another person, spousal support may be reduced or eliminated
  • Cost of living increases because of inflation, which qualifies as a change of circumstances
  • There is a decreased need for support by the recipient
  • If a payer of support becomes unable to support himself/herself due to physical or mental disabilities
  • A financial emergency happens that results in large medical bills
  • A paying ex-spouse remarries and has a new child

A modification of the amount that is paid can be discussed between the two ex-spouses, without going through court again. However, if the payer does not pay the modified amount, the court cannot enforce it. It is highly recommended that any changes to the court ordered alimony go through the court again for the modifications. Ending spousal support is difficult without the expertise of a lawyer. Contact our Orange County law office today.

Enforcing the Alimony Order

If a spouse is able to but does not pay what is ordered by the court, he/she may be found “contempt of court”, which may lead to some jail time. Falling behind on payments result in interest charges added to the principle amount. California law makes spousal support a serious responsibility. These penalties are not easy to deal with, that is why you need to honestly present your circumstances to the court from the very beginning.

An experienced family lawyer is who you need to properly guide you through this complex subject.  Working with someone that knows the support statutes and how judges view them can make a huge difference when it comes to paying or being paid what is right. Call our office submit the form on the right to get a consultation with a family law lawyer who knows all about alimony law.

Should You Hire a Spousal Support Lawyer?

Spousal support is not a promised part of divorce, nor is it a right. With California being a no-fault state, alimony is not a punishment or reward for bad behavior in a marriage. Support is ordered with the purpose of limiting unfair economic disadvantage to the non-wage earner or lower-wage earner. An divorce attorney represents your best interests in front of a judge to make sure that you get a fair outcome. Working with a Orange County family law attorney who knows how to negotiate a reasonable support amount will help you get on your way to putting your life back together.

Divorce mediation is also a good way to attempt to figure out alimony outside of court. This is a great option if you and your spouse are still respectful and communicating.

JS Family Law Attorney Footnotes:

[1] In re Marriage of Cheriton

[2] Family Law Code § 4320

[3] Family Law Code § 4324