Whether you are the higher-earning spouse in the marriage or the financially supported partner, divorce can have a significant economic impact. One of the most common questions asked by divorcing spouses is: “How is spousal support determined?” Also commonly known as alimony, spousal support can be one of the most contested issues in any divorce.
Spousal support is meant to help ensure the dependent spouse has the same standard of living they enjoyed during the marriage as they work to become self-supporting. A California court will consider a variety of factors when deciding how much spousal support should be awarded and for how long.
What is Spousal Support?
Spousal support, or alimony, consists of payments made by the monied spouse to the dependent spouse for a period of time after the marriage has legally ended or for the duration of the divorce proceedings. The purpose of alimony is to help ensure the lower-earning spouse can maintain the same standard of living they enjoyed during the marriage as they work to become self-supporting.
There are two types of alimony in California: temporary spousal support and permanent spousal support. While temporary support may be granted during the time the divorce proceedings are occurring, it stops once the court makes a determination concerning permanent support. If a court awards permanent alimony, it will last for a specific period of time after the judgment of divorce has been issued. However, it’s essential to understand that despite what it may be called, “permanent” spousal support is not indefinite; the amount of time it is paid depends upon the length of the marriage.
How is Spousal Support Calculated in California?
If both spouses can reach an agreement concerning spousal support, court intervention may not be necessary. But in cases where alimony is contested, the court will determine the outcome of the matter before a judgment of divorce can be granted. California Family Code § 4320 sets forth a number of factors a court will evaluate when rendering a decision concerning spousal support.
Specifically, a court will consider the following factors when determining an award of spousal support:
- The skills and training regarding the employability of the dependent spouse
- Whether the dependent spouse’s employability has been affected by periods of unemployment during the marriage
- The extent that the dependent spouse contributed to the education or career advancement of the supporting spouse
- The supporting spouse’s ability to pay spousal support
- The financial needs of each party
- The obligations, assets, and separate property of each party
- The length of the marriage
- The supported spouse’s ability to work without interfering with the interest of the children in their custody
- Each spouse’s age and health condition
- Whether there is a history of domestic violence
- The tax consequences of alimony
- Whether either party would experience hardship
- Any other just and equitable factors
The court will also consider the objective that the supported spouse should become self-supporting within a reasonable amount of time after the divorce. Typically, “a reasonable amount of time” is construed to be one-half the length of the marriage, but it is within the court’s discretion to award alimony for a greater or lesser amount of time, depending on the relevant factors listed above. Determining the duration of spousal support can also be much more complex for marriages that lasted ten years or more.
Can Spousal Support Be Modified or Terminated?
There are certain situations in which an alimony order may be modified by the court, unless the judgment or stipulation of settlement specifies otherwise. If either spouse has experienced a material change in circumstances, an upward or downward modification may be granted. For example, a downward modification may be warranted if the supporting spouse lost their job, developed an illness, or suffered from a disability. Alternatively, an upward modification may be appropriate if the supporting spouse’s income increased substantially.
Spousal support is terminated upon the dependent spouse’s remarriage. Unlike with a modification request, when alimony is terminated based on remarriage, it is not necessary to make a motion to the court. Rather, when the supported spouse remarries, they are required to notify the paying spouse, and alimony payments can stop automatically. However, if the supported spouse fails to inform the paying spouse, any payments made as of the date of the remarriage can be recouped by filing an action in court.
Significantly, a supporting spouse may also wish to terminate or modify alimony payments if their former spouse cohabitates with another. Unless both spouses agree to the termination or modification, the requesting spouse will need to file their request with the court. The court will look to the same factors outlined in California Family Code § 4320 to determine whether there is a reduced need for spousal support.
Contact an Experienced Fresno Divorce Attorney
If you are facing divorce, spousal support is an issue that must be carefully considered. A skilled and knowledgeable divorce attorney can assess the facts and circumstances of your case and advise you of your legal rights. Offering high-quality legal services and reliable representation for clients going through divorce, The Law Offices of Rick D. Banks is committed to obtaining a favorable outcome for each client.
The Law Offices of Rick D. Banks has been helping clients throughout Fresno and the surrounding area with their divorce and family law matters for over 20 years. To schedule a no obligation consultation, call (559) 272-8359.