Terminating Spousal Support in California

When a couple divorces in California, a judge may order the higher-earning spouse to pay spousal support to the lower-earning spouse. Some states call this “alimony,” but in California, it’s referred to as “spousal support.” Contrary to popular belief, spousal support is not automatically awarded in California divorces. Much of it has to do with a spouse’s need for it, and the other spouse’s financial ability to pay it.

If you expect spousal support to be awarded in your divorce case, you’re probably wondering how long it will last. Generally, if spousal support is awarded, it’s set for one half the length of the marriage. For example, if the marriage was five years, it may be awarded for two-and-a-half-years. However, judges have discretion and they don’t have to stick to that formula.

If a marriage lasted 10 or more years, it’s considered a “long-term” marriage and spousal support may be set without an end date. This does not mean it will last indefinitely, it just means it may be set without the judge setting a specific end date. Later, either party can petition the court to modify or terminate the support if circumstances change significantly.

When Does Spousal Support End?

The magic question is, “When does spousal support end?” It generally ends when:

  • The court order says that the support ends;
  • The supported spouse remarries; or
  • Either spouse dies.

“What if a supported spouse moves in with a romantic partner and enters into a supportive relationship but they don’t remarry?” is a question we get a lot from both receiving and paying spouses. And, it’s a valid question, especially when it comes from a paying spouse.

Suppose “Amy” was a homemaker for her 5-year marriage to “John,” who provided Amy with a very comfortable lifestyle while she took care of John’s home, paid the bills, cooked him dinner, and took care of his two dogs. Upon divorce, John was ordered to pay spousal support to Amy for 30 months, but a year after the divorce, Amy moves in with “Mike,” who earns a six-figure salary and wants to support Amy. Is John still on the hook for alimony? Maybe, maybe not. Read on to learn more.

Cohabitating with a Nonmarital Partner

Under Section 4323 (a)(1) of the California Family Code it reads: “Except as otherwise agreed to by the parties in writing, there is a rebuttable presumption, affecting the burden of proof, of decreased need for spousal support if the supported party is cohabiting with a nonmarital partner. Upon a determination that circumstances have changed, the court may modify or terminate the spousal support as provided for in Chapter 6 (commencing with Section 3650) of Part 1.”

Next: 2019 Changes in Spousal Support Tax Laws

What does this mean? It means that if a supported spouse cohabitates with a partner, it could be used as grounds to reduce or terminate the spousal support payments. To learn more, contact Cutter & Lax to meet with a Ventura divorce attorney.