Spousal Support in California: What You Need to Know

If you're getting divorced, you may be wondering, "Will a judge order spousal support in my case?" Spousal support, also known as "alimony," is money that a higher-earning spouse pays the lower-earning spouse each month for financial support.

The purpose of spousal support is to ensure that a spouse doesn't fall into poverty because of their divorce. A judge may order spousal support in the following cases:

A spouse doesn't have to wait for a divorce to be final to ask for support; they can ask for spousal support while their case is pending in the courts – known as a "temporary spousal support order." But it can also be ordered once the legal separation or divorce becomes final. In this case, it's called permanent or long-term spousal support.

What Judges Consider When Making a Decision

Spousal support is not automatically awarded; it's at the judge's discretion. Judges consider the following factors when deciding whether to award spousal support:

  • The length of the marriage;
  • The standard of living during the marriage;
  • What each spouse can pay to keep the same standard of living;
  • Whether having a job would make it difficult to care for the children;
  • The age and health of both spouses;
  • The couple's assets and debts;
  • Whether one of the spouses helped the other with their education, career, or professional license;
  • Whether one spouse's employment was affected by unemployment, taking care of the children or the home; and
  • Whether there was domestic violence.

Here are some things you should know about spousal support: 1) it's not guaranteed, 2) if you fall behind on payments, you must pay 10% interest per year on the balance, 3) if you don't pay you can be sent to jail, 4) it can be modified, 5) it is tax deductible for the paying spouse, 6) it is taxable income for the receiving spouse, and 7) it usually ends when the receiving spouse remarries.

The duration of spousal support is typically tied to the length of the marriage, especially since the purpose of spousal support is to get the receiving spouse to where they can support themselves.

Generally, spousal support is awarded for one-half the length of the marriage with the exception of "long-term" marriages that last 10 years or longer. If a marriage lasted 10 years or more, the judge may not set an end date for the spousal support.

For further information, contact Cutter & Lax to speak to a board certified family law specialist!