Spousal support, or alimony, is a series of payments made from a higher-earning spouse to the other during the divorce process and often, after the court finalizes the divorce.
The purpose of spousal support is to make the transition from a two-income household to one-income less catastrophic for a lower-earning spouse. Although it may seem unfair that you must support your ex-spouse, the goal is to ensure that both spouses walk away from the marriage on balanced financial footing, and sometimes that can’t happen without additional support.
Type of Spousal Support in California
Like many other states, California courts offer temporary, rehabilitative, and permanent spousal support. California also recognizes a unique form of spousal support called “reimbursement support.” A supported spouse may request temporary spousal support. If a judge awards temporary support, it will typically be granted from the date it’s requested until the time the judge finalizes the divorce.
The purpose of temporary support is to allow a lower-earning spouse to cover living expenses during the divorce process. This type of support is unique in that the courts usually calculate the amount of support by using the California child support guidelines instead of the spousal support factors listed below.
Rehabilitative support is the most common type of spousal support and is common in cases where one spouse earns more than the other or was the primary earner in the family while the other cared for the parties’ children and home during the marriage. The goal of rehabilitative support is to give the lower-earning spouse enough support to allow time to gain valuable job skills or education to enter the workforce and become self-supporting.
Permanent spousal support is rare, and the court typically reserves it for spouses ending a long-term marriage (meaning ten or more years) where one spouse can’t enter the workforce due to advanced age or illness. (CA FAM §4336.)
California is unique in that, if one spouse helped finance the other’s education or career advancement training during the marriage, that spouse could request reimbursement support to recoup the funds used during the marriage. The idea behind reimbursement support is that when spouses work together to allow one to get an advanced degree, both will benefit from the advancements during the marriage. When couples divorce, only the spouse with the degree will benefit, and the court understands that may not be fair to the other.
The amount and duration of spousal support paid in California is determined by state law after carefully reviewing numerous factors. The court has tremendous discretion in setting alimony. If you are unable to settle or resolve this issue, then your attorney needs to develop detailed evidence about each factor set forth below.
The controlling statute that the court must consider in establishing permanent spousal support states the following:
4320. In ordering spousal support under this part, the court shall consider all of the following circumstances:
(a) The extent to which the earning capacity of each party is sufficient to maintain the standard of living established during the marriage, taking into account all of the following:
(1) The marketable skills of the supported party; the job market for those skills; the time and expenses required for the supported party to acquire the appropriate education or training to develop those skills; and the possible need for retraining or education to acquire other, more marketable skills or employment.
(2) The extent to which the supported party’s present or future earning capacity is impaired by periods of unemployment that were incurred during the marriage to permit the supported party to devote time to domestic duties.
(b) The extent to which the supported party contributed to the attainment of an education, training, a career position, or a license by the supporting party.
(c) The ability of the supporting party to pay spousal support, taking into account the supporting party’s earning capacity, earned and unearned income, assets, and standard of living.
(d) The needs of each party based on the standard of living established during the marriage.
(e) The obligations and assets, including the separate property, of each party.
(f) The duration of the marriage.
(g) The ability of the supported party to engage in gainful employment without unduly interfering with the interests of dependent children in the custody of the party.
(h) The age and health of the parties
(i) Documented evidence of any history of domestic violence, as defined in Section 6211, between the parties, including, but not limited to, consideration of emotional distress resulting from domestic violence perpetrated against the supported party by the supporting party, and consideration of any history of violence against the supporting party by the supported party.
(j) The immediate and specific tax consequences to each party.
(k) The balance of the hardships to each party.
(l) The goal that the supported party shall be self-supporting within a reasonable period of time. Except in the case of a marriage of long duration as described in Section 4336, a “reasonable period of time” for purposes of this section generally shall be one-half the length of the marriage.
However, nothing in this section is intended to limit the court’s discretion to order support for a greater or lesser length of time, based on any of the other factors listed in this section, Section 4336, and the circumstances of the parties.
(m) The criminal conviction of an abusive spouse shall be considered in making a reduction or elimination of a spousal support award in accordance with Section 4325.
(n) Any other factors the court determines are just and equitable.
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This is intended as general advice and should not be interpreted as legal advice. Each situation is unique and requires specific analysis of relevant contracts, facts and legal obligations.