How Alimony is Decided in California 

One of the more challenging parts of divorce these days is how to determine financial support paid to a former spouse. Also known as alimony, spousal support is paid monthly from a higher-earning spouse to a lower or non-earning spouse, typically during and after the divorce. The purpose of spousal support is to reallocate the total pie of income between two households for a certain length of time .The goal is to make sure both parties leave the marriage on balanced financial footing until they can both become financially self-supporting. 

alimony laws in California

Types of Spousal Support in California

California breaks down spousal support into two general categories. They are:

  • Temporary: this is typically granted from the date it is formally requested until the time the court enters judgment. Contingent upon the length of marriage, temporary support may expire during the divorce for a very short marriage or not be ordered at all. A more typical case for spousal support is where one partner was the primary or sole earner and the other cared for the children and home during the marriage. Also called “pendente lite” spousal support, it is maintained while the divorce is pending. The purpose is to maintain the “status quo” of the income and expense budget of the family. To simplify calculation of temporary support, a court may rely on a uniform guideline formula. 
  • Permanent: The term permanent merely describes spousal support payable post-Judgment. The duration of permanent support will vary depending on the length of the marriage and circumstances of the spouses. A marriage shy of ten years in California is considered “short term” and the rule of thumb for a short term marriage is support payable for half the length of the marriage. Courts have broad discretion to fashion the appropriate order.  Permanent support is reviewable upon a material change of circumstances of the parties. 

How California Courts Determine Alimony

Either spouse, regardless of gender, can request support. Courts will review the financial information from each spouse to make the appropriate findings. A broad statutory framework dictates the final terms of spousal support, including the amount of support payable, whether it remains static or steps down and whether it terminates at a certain point and on what conditions. 

The following factors are taken into consideration to determine a final amount for alimony in California:

  • each spouse’s earnings and earning capacity
  • the paying spouse’s ability to pay support
  • the length of the marriage
  • the extent to which one partner contributed to the other’s degree or license
  • each spouse’s needs based on the marital standard of living
  • each spouse’s debts and assets
  • each spouse’s ages and health
  • the ability of the supported spouse to become employed without interfering in the care of minor children
  • balance of hardship to each party
  • Any other factors the court should consider (e.g. history of domestic violence, criminal convictions, etc.)

Alimony Payments

Spousal support is typically paid in monthly installments, but can be paid via lump sum buyout. Upon request, the court will order an income withholding order to the paying spouse’s employer, so the payment can be withdrawn directly from payroll. The recipient can request court intervention if payments are missed or the court order is not followed, which can include interest on missed payments or contempt proceedings. 

For questions and concerns about the length of spousal support, defenses to spousal support, how to make changes to spousal support, or how spousal support payments affect your taxes, contact an experienced family law attorney. Knowledgeable counsel will ensure the most beneficial outcome with your particular circumstances in mind.