The Factors of Alimony and Spousal Support

When a couple gets divorced, the financial implications can pretty much turn their lives upside down. That’s why the California family law code has policies that give guidance in determining if a spouse should give or receive alimony or not. If there is an order of alimony or spousal support, how long and how much should it be for? What factors does the judge based this on?

On this webpage, you’ll see the 14 factors that outline alimony determination. This will give us an insight into what judges look at when they make a decision about spousal support or alimony orders:


14 Important Factors That Judges Consider

Each of these 14 influences are what commonly impacts a couple after they dissolve the marriage. These common issues surrounding the result of alimony orders are listed and can be found in section 4320 of the California Family Law Code:

  1. Ability to maintain marital standard of living in light of earning capacities – This factor looks are each individual’s ability to continue living by the same standards as during the marriage. When the couple splits, will each one of them be able to continue being able to move forward without hit hard financially on his/her own? Here are 2 things that go into determining if an individual is able to maintain the marital standard of living on his/her own:
    • Marketable skills – The judge will investigate the individuals’ marketable skills. These are skills that can be used to earn an income, whether it be building websites or providing customer service. Not only are marketable skills looked at, the job market is also considered. The reason behind this is because even if you have great skills and no one is really looking to hire you for that skill, you wouldn’t be able to earn enough to continue the marital standard of living.
    • Impaired earning capacity due to unemployment during marriage to commit to domestic duties – During a marriage, the couple may have decided that one spouse would be the homemaker or stay-at-home parent. It may be more difficult for that person to get a job after the divorce if they’ve been unemployed for many years. Judges know this, so they do factor in the possibility that your earning abilities aren’t going to be great. The longer a person has been out of the work market, the longer it will probably take to find a job again. In this case, the amount of spousal support will consider this amount of time.
  2. Contributions to other spouse’s education, training, etc. – One spouse may have contributed to the other spouse’s education or any training that resulted in bettering his/her career, while the nonstudent spouse put his/her own education on hold. A lump-sum reimbursement for educational expenses during the marriage is not an option for an alimony order, but it is part of the formula in determining spousal support.
  3. Supporting spouse’s ability to pay – At the time of the decision for spousal support, the court looks at the supporting spouse’s current ability to pay spousal support. His/her past or future income is not considered, only what he/she is able to pay at the time of consideration by the judge.
  4. “Needs” in light of marital standard of living – When talking about the needs of the involved parties, we’re talking about more than just the bare necessities. It’s not just about putting food on the table or clothes on their backs, it’s other things that were staples during the marriage and within the means of the combined income. This does NOT mean that if the couple lived lavishly above what they earned while married, the spousal support should continue to provide that lifestyle. The “needs” must be reasonable.
  5. Parties’ assets and debts – These include all of the assets, community and separate property. The court looks at all of these things to see each individual’s net worth. Knowing this information helps decide whether the alimony should be more, less, or nothing at all.
  6. Duration of marriage – This is one of the most important factors in determining spousal support. There is a false belief that there’s a magic number for receiving alimony for life, but there is no definite rule. Short term marriages can get a longer period of alimony ordered and long-term (more than 10 years) marriages can get 5 years of alimony. This factor is not considered alone, but when combined with the other 13 factors, spousal support can be fairly determined. For instance, if a stay-at-home mom stayed at home to take care of the kids for 25 years during the marriage, she would have been out of the job market for at least 25 years (Factor 1(b).
  7. Employability of custodial spouse vs. impact on children[1]This is a bit of a two-part factor. 1. Will the custodial parent be able to work without having a negative impact on the children? 2. The endgame of a spousal support order is to have the supported spouse be able to be self-supporting; the spousal support payments is supposed to help for a period of time as to not put one spouse in an unlivable situation but eventually is meant to stop. If the children are young, the court will be more flexible in determining the custodial parent’s earning capacity, as he/she would have to take time to care for the children. In other words, a judge may not expect that custodial parent to successfully gain or hold full-time employment until the children are older.
  8. Age and health of the parties – If both spouses are healthy, this factor doesn’t affect the outcome much. If one spouse has poor health or is older, his/her earning abilities are decreased. When looking at an individual’s health, it is not limited to just physical impairs, but also psychological as that does affect the ability to be employed as well.
  9. History of domestic violence – In short, courts don’t like to give perpetrators of domestic violence money (i.e. Alimony). So, if there is documented evidence that a spouse seeking support had been or is abusive towards the other spouse or the children, the court is likely to either lessen the alimony significantly or not award it at all. Notice that there only needs to be documentation and not an actual conviction for this factor. It is at the judge’s discretion to adjust the alimony according to how he/she deems fit. An unfortunate part of this is that even if you have been wrongfully accused of domestic violence, it is still taken into consideration.
  10. Tax consequences – The impact of an alimony order on either spouse is considered. Typically, a paying spouse can deduct the alimony and it is taxable to the receiving spouse.
  11. Relative hardships – This factor is a catch all for any other hardships that an individual may face, but is not covered in any of the previous statutes. A hardship of special circumstances might be that the paying spouse has another child on the way.
  12. Goal of self-support – As previously mentioned, the goal of spousal support is to help either spouse get back on his/her feet without going through extreme financial hardship after a divorce. Although this isn’t a set rule, it’s usually thought that a reasonable amount of time for a spouse to find full-time employment is half of the time of the marriage (if short-term).
  13. Spousal abuse conviction (mandatory factor for support reduction/termination) – If a spouse who has been convicted of abuse towards the other spouse, within 5 years of the petition for divorce or any time after that, the California family court is most likely to not award spousal support to the abuser. On the other hand, if that abusive spouse can prove that he/she is also a victim of abuse by the other spouse, then this factor is removed from consideration.
  14. Other “just and equitable” factors – As with factor #11, relative hardships, this one is another catch all factor covering any other reasonable things that should affect alimony orders. These may include special circumstances, such as: support of disabled adult children, taking care of elderly parents/grandparents, or support of minor children with disabilities.

Factors of CA Alimony & Spousal SupportSpousal Support Lawyers in California Can Help

The issues listed above are just guidance for a judge to make a decision about spousal support. As judges do make mistakes, you might not be given a fair order for alimony whether you’re the payor or receiver. We highly recommend that you contact our family law attorney to discuss your possible case for to get alimony or to make a modification in your current order.

[1] In Re Marriage of Ficke