What is Spousal Support?

Divorced woman holding envelope with alimony, savings for single mom, allowance

Spousal support, sometimes referred to as “alimony,” is a court-ordered payment made by one spouse to the other. These payments are gender-neutral and based strictly on a spouse’s financial need for support. The purpose is to help ensure the supported spouse maintains as close to the standard of living they enjoyed during the marriage while they are transitioning to being self-supporting.

The two types of spousal support that may be awarded in California include the following:

  • Temporary spousal support — Temporary spousal support is meant to assist the spouse with a lower income while the divorce action is pending. This type of spousal support ends when the divorce is finalized and the judge issues the divorce decree (sometimes called a “Judgment”). At that time, post-judgment spousal support may be awarded depending on the circumstances of each case.
  • Post-Judgment spousal support — Also known as “permanent” spousal support, is meant to provide for a spouse’s financial needs after the divorce has been finalized. It is more commonly awarded in cases where the marriage was for a long duration and one spouse earns substantially less than the other. This type of spousal support ends by the date specified in the court order, but depending on the length of the marriage, it could continue indefinitely or even permanently. Spousal support usually terminates upon the supported spouse’s remarriage to a new spouse, or upon the death of either spouse.

How is Spousal Support Decided in California?

There are many factors that go into determining spousal support, but a judge will mainly look at the income and earning capacity of both parties. All types of spousal support in California are based on a spouse’s need for support and the other spouse’s ability to make payments. How much is paid, for how long, and when it ends are often the most highly contested issues in a divorce matter.

Temporary spousal support is sometimes calculated using the Dissomaster software program, but the court has the discretion to deviate from the amount of spousal support the Dissomaster program indicates should be owed. The analysis is fact-intensive, and each case is different.

When it comes to ordering post-judgment spousal support, judges may not rely on the Dissomaster software program and instead must consider the following factors under California Family Code § 4320:

  • The marketable skills and future earning capacity of the supported spouse
  • The supported part’s present or future earning capacity, to the extent that earning capacity is impaired by periods of unemployment that were incurred during the marriage as a result of devotion to domestic duties
  • The supported spouse’s contributions to the education or training of the supporting spouse
  • The ability of the supporting spouse to pay spousal support
  • The needs of each party based on the standard of living established during the marriage
  • Each party’s debts, assets, including the separate property of each party
  • Length of the marriage
  • The supported spouse’s ability to engage in gainful employment
  • The age and health of the spouses
  • Any documented evidence of any history of domestic violence (without unduly interfering with the interests of dependent children in the custody of the party)
  • The tax consequences of spousal support to each party
  • The balance of the hardships to either party
  • Other factors the court determines are fair and equitable

When awarding spousal support, a court will also consider the goal that the supported party becomes self-supporting within a reasonable amount of time. For marriages of 10 years or less, judges generally order spousal support to last about one-half the length of the marriage to be a “reasonable amount of time”. However, courts have the discretion to order spousal support for a longer or shorter duration based on the above factors. In long-term marriages lasting ten years or longer, post-judgment spousal support may be awarded for an indefinite amount of time.

Does Spousal Support Need to Be Decided in Court?

The issue of spousal support does not need to be litigated in court — payments can be agreed upon by the spouses, formalized into a written agreement, and made into a “stipulated order.” Often, mediation is a useful tool to help couples determine the issues that must be decided in divorce without requesting a judge to intervene. Spouses can negotiate a spousal support arrangement that works for them and specify the terms in the agreement they submit to the court.

In the settlement agreement, spouses can stipulate to the amount of spousal support to be paid, the termination date (if any) or the terms and conditions upon which spousal support payments may be reduced. The parties can also decide if post-judgment spousal support is paid in a one-time lump sum or in the traditional manner of monthly payments. Once signed by a judge, the agreement becomes a binding court order. This means the paying spouse must continue to make payments in the manner specified by the order.

Contact an Experienced California Divorce Attorney

If you are considering divorce, spousal support can be an important part of your settlement. A knowledgeable family law attorney can advise you regarding support calculations, your legal rights, and answer questions about the process. Located in Walnut Creek, Bednarczyk & Valerio, LLP offers skillful representation and compassionate lawyering to clients in California for a wide variety of divorce matters, like spousal support. Call (925) 464-2494 or contact us online to schedule a consultation to learn how we can help.

Categories: Spousal Support