Under What Circumstances will the Court Award Alimony in California?

iStock_000010906325_LargeAlimony or “spousal support” is when one spouse makes payments to another spouse after divorce or separation. It involves an agreement or court order that makes one spouse obligated to pay a specified amount to the other, and it should be filed before any actually payments are made to prevent disputes about payments or amount of support.

Alimony is generally awarded because one spouse makes significantly less money than the other spouse, and the spouse would have difficulty supporting themselves after a divorce or separation. Depending on a variety of factors, a spouse can be awarded temporary or permanent alimony.

Temporary Spousal Support

This kind of alimony is called “temporary” because it is paid to the lower-earning spouse during the divorce process, and is eventually replaced by a permanent alimony award. Temporary alimony is a regular payment from the higher-earning spouse to the lower-earning spouse.

The amount of temporary alimony is usually based on factors including both spouses income, health insurance deductions, and other issues related to each spouse’s earning capacity. There are alimony-calculations out there available to the public, and usually family law attorney and judges will have similar software available to use.

Permanent Spousal Support

Permanent alimony, or “long-term spousal support,” is when one spouse makes regular payments to the other spouse after divorce. It is awarded to provide the lower-earning spouse with a living standard similar to the “marital standard of living,” or the financial standard of living established during the marriage.

Deciding who pays alimony is often an issue brought to the courts.When determining who pays alimony and alimony amount, the courts will consider any factors related to the marital standard of living, and each spouse’s earning capacity. Factors considered include:

  • How much the supported spouse’s earning capacity was impacted by long periods of unemployment due to domestic duties.
  • The marketable skills of the supported spouse, and the job market for those skills. Sometimes, one of the spouses has been out of the work force for a period of time and does not have marketable skills, which is when the court will consider the possible need for additional training or education needed to gain these skills, and the cost of training and education.
  • How much the supported spouse contributed financially to the paying spouse’s education, training, career, or license.
  • The impact of the paying spouse’s earning capacity, earned and unearned income, assets and standard of living on the spouse’s ability to pay alimony.
  • Both spouse’s financial needs based on marital standard of living, and obligation to debts and assets.
  • The length of the marriage
  • The age and health of the spouses
  • The supported spouse;s ability to work outside the home and support themselves without interfering with the interests and custody of and children

It is important to note that “permanent alimony” is almost never actually permanent. The general rule is, if the marriage was under 10 years, then permanent alimony will last no longer than half the length of the marriage. If the marriage was extremely short, for instance 1 year, permanent alimony may never be rewarded because the temporary alimony satisfies the obligation to pay support for 6 months.

For a marriage over 10 years, the judge will determine length of support at their own discretion based on various factors. The judge will determine length of permanent alimony based on what will allow the supported spouse to be as close as possible to the marital standard of living until the spouse can reasonably become self-supporting.