Spousal Support and Alimony

Spousal Support and Alimony

What is Spousal Support?

Spousal support, also known as alimony, is the legal obligation of one spouse to support the other. It refers to payments made from the supporting spouse to the supported. Spousal support aims to help the supported spouse maintain the standard of living they developed during the marriage.

The California courts are under no obligation to award spousal support. Even when spousal support is issued, judges have broad discretion to determine the amount and duration of alimony payments.

There are three types of spousal support: temporary, permanent, and lump sum. It is important to note that just because temporary alimony was ordered does not imply that spousal support will continue once a divorce is final.

  • Temporary Alimony
    Under temporary alimony, the spouse is paid while the case is still open. Temporary spousal support’s purpose is to help the supported spouse become financially self-sufficient, given a reasonable period of time. Temporary spousal support can last anywhere from 6 months to numerous years. The judge typically uses a preset formula to determine the amount.
  • Permanent Alimony
    Once the divorce is final, a judge may order permanent or long-term spousal support. The amount is determined by multiple factors, such as standard of living, length of the marriage, and history of domestic abuse, among others.
  • Lump-Sum Alimony
    Instead of paying monthly, an individual may pay their entire alimony debt in one lump sum. This allows the supporting spouse to fulfill their obligations all at once, avoiding further interactions with the recipient and modifications to the spousal support agreement.

Spousal support decisions are often made twice during a divorce. Temporary spousal support may be ordered while a divorce is pending. Once a divorce is final, there may be another order granting permanent support, rehabilitative spousal support, or lump-sum alimony. Rehabilitative spousal support is similar to temporary support. It exists to help a spouse reach financial independence and get back on their feet after a divorce.

When Might Alimony Be Awarded?

While it’s essential to keep in mind that spousal support is determined on a case-by-case basis, there are a few simple examples of when alimony may be awarded.

  • In certain cases, one spouse may rely on the other for income. This can be for a variety of reasons such as disability, traditional values, or parental responsibilities among other things. In these instances, the reliant spouse requires time to become self-sufficient. Alimony may be awarded by a judge.
  • In many cases, one spouse sacrifices their education or career during the marriage either for parental responsibilities or to help their spouse achieve their goals. They are then in a position where they must rely on the other for financial stability. A divorce can remove this support from the spouse, leaving them without a source of income and if they left school, their chances of getting a well-paying job may be compromised. 
  • Many couples own businesses together. When they get divorced, this ownership can cause a major dispute. If the couple owns a business which one spouse will get in the divorce, it will leave the other spouse with no income. The judge may deem alimony important in this situation. 

What Are the Requirements For Spousal Support, and How Is It Calculated?

The courts use 13 factors when considering the issues related to post-divorce spousal support:

  1. Extent to which the earning capacity of each party is sufficient to maintain the standard of living established during the marriage.
  2. Extent to which the supported party contributed to the attainment of an education, a career position, or a license of the supporting party.
  3. Ability to pay off the supporting party, taking into account the supporting party’s earning capacity, earned and unearned income, assets, and standard of living.
  4. Needs of each party based on the standard of living established during the marriage.
  5. Obligations and assets, including the separate property, of each party.
  6. Duration of the marriage.
  7. 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.
  8. Age and health of the parties.
  9. Immediate and specific tax consequences to each party.
  10. Balance of the hardships to each party.
  11. Goal that the supported party shall be self-supporting within a reasonable period of time. 
  12. A “reasonable period of time” is generally defined as one-half the length of the marriage. However, the court retains the discretion to order support for a greater or lesser length of time-based on other relevant factors and the circumstances of the parties.
  13. Any other factors the court determines are just and equitable.

Temporary spousal support is determined exclusively on gross monthly income, while the court determines the amount of alimony in long-term or permanent cases based on the factors above.

How Much Alimony Do You Qualify For?

According to San Jose Law, the length of time spousal support is owed depends on the length of the marriage. Marriages over 10 years (long-term marriages) may be paid 10 years or longer, though each case is unique. For marriages under 10 years (short-term marriages), the typical amount of time is half the length of the marriage.

In addition to marriage duration, the amount of alimony is calculated by the incomes of each spouse. Spouses who rely on their partners for financial security may receive support for a longer period of time.

All these factors, and more, determine the amount of alimony.

Postnuptial Agreements and Spousal Support

Postnuptial agreements are written agreements entered into after a couple gets married. When a couple divorces, the postnuptial agreement is executed.

Separation agreements, a form of postnuptial agreements, allow parties to form an agreement of division of property rights and/or spousal and child support rights. A court then approves or rejects the agreement.

Spousal support agreements have statutory limitations that must be considered—for example, the statute of the spouse’s primary obligation of support. 

California Family Code section 1620 states, “Except as otherwise provided by law, a husband and wife cannot, by a contract with each other, alter their legal relations, except as to property.” Essentially meaning couples cannot enter into postnuptial agreements.

However, Section 3580 of the California Family Code states the couple may agree in writing to an immediate separation and provide a separation agreement at the time. It is important to note that if the couple is not ready to immediately separate, the court will reject the postnuptial agreement.

Spousal Support Modifications

Spousal support is one of the most frequently modified parts of a divorce decree. There is a wide range of issues that can lead to a spousal support order being modified. Some of those issues include loss of a job, remarriage, or the spouse receiving alimony acquiring a higher paying job.

For example, suppose an ex-spouse who is receiving alimony gets remarried. In that case, the court may modify or even stop the alimony payment as the new spouse could be a source of financial stability for the recipient. 

Another instance would be if the supported spouse obtains a better-paying job, increasing their income and allowing them to become more financially stable. 

On the other hand, if the supporting spouse loses their job, the court may make modifications – usually temporarily – to enable the supporting spouse the time to get back on their feet.

Why Hiring a Lawyer Can Help You With Spousal Support

In situations where it can be demonstrated that both parties have sufficient income or separate property to support themselves, most courts will not issue a spousal support order. In addition, child custody and domestic violence issues can have a significant impact on spousal support decisions. 

Having an experienced attorney on your side means someone will be there to advocate on your behalf and factually present how you will benefit from necessary spousal support. They can present your current income situation, a history of financial dependence on a partner, and plans for the future. Alternatively, they can advocate for why you shouldn’t owe alimony. 

Some lawyers also provide access to inside and outside resources (such as forensic accountants, real estate appraisers, medical professionals, and more) that can help strengthen your spousal support case.

Lonich Patton Ehrlich Policastri Are Experienced Attorneys

At Lonich Patton Ehrlich Policastri, we specialize in two practices: Family Law and Estate Planning. We have an in-depth understanding of California spousal support guidelines, and we know how to assess our clients’ marital and financial situations in relation to those guidelines.

We have extensive experience in handling spousal support matters. With decades of experience handling complicated family law and estate planning matters, we know what problems arise and how to manage them.

As one of California’s largest Family Law practices, Lonich Patton Ehrlich Policastri prides itself on collaborating with experienced forensic accountants, business evaluators, real estate appraisers, and mental health professionals. Our clients always receive quality legal advice and representation, plus access to resources that reinforce their cases. 

Don’t wait – if you’ve got questions about alimony, contact our office today for a free 30-minute consultation.