Divorce involves many complex and emotionally charged legal issues, but spousal support is often the most contentious. Filing for divorce can be an expensive endeavor for many couples, especially if one spouse has been unemployed for an extended period of time to support the other’s career or raise their children. Thankfully, California law recognizes that significant financial disparity between spouses is common during the divorce process and provides several types of spousal support to limit this disparity.
What Are the Three Types of Spousal Support?
To apply for spousal support, you must initiate a court case to request that a judge creates a spousal or partner support order. You may be eligible for spousal support in a divorce, legal separation, or annulment case or when obtaining a domestic violence restraining order. California courts award three primary types of spousal support:
- Temporary Alimony—A temporary spousal support order arranges for spousal support payments while the case is in progress and litigation is pending. It is designed to provide immediate support for the lower-earning parent until the divorce is finalized to cover daily living expenses and attorney fees. This order remains in effect until the judge makes a final determination regarding permanent alimony.
- Permanent Alimony—A permanent spousal support order may be granted by the judge when the divorce or legal separation is finalized. This type of support may be an ongoing payment made over a predetermined period or may continue indefinitely. These payments are made on a recurring basis but can be reduced or eliminated in certain situations, such as when the recipient remarries or cohabitates with another partner.
- Alimony in Gross—In contrast with regular payments, alimony in gross refers to a single lump-sum payment. A judge may order this type of spousal support if the recipient spouse receives a small share of the community property from the divorce or legal separation and the paying spouse reimburses them for this share.
Alternatively, the court can award rehabilitative or reimbursement alimony to the lower-earning parent. Rehabilitative alimony provides spousal support payments over a certain period to help the recipient spouse become self-supporting, either by obtaining an education, acquiring more marketable job skills, or finding a job. This type of alimony is awarded in situations where the recipient spouse made significant career sacrifices to support the paying spouse in their own career or raise the children. Reimbursement alimony compensates the recipient spouse for their contributions that helped the paying spouse advance their education or career. This type of support may be awarded if the recipient parent financially supported the family while the paying parent received an education, career training, or professional licensing.
When a judge makes a spousal support determination, it becomes a legally binding and enforceable court order. If the paying spouse does not fulfill this obligation, the recipient spouse can enforce the order with a contempt action. If the failure to pay results from an inability to afford the payments, the paying spouse can request that the court reduce or terminate the payments. Even if the paying spouse is unable to afford these payments, they are legally obligated to do so until they obtain this modification.
What Factors Will the Judge Consider When Awarding Spousal Support?
Judges typically utilize a formula to calculate the amount of temporary spousal support to award during the court case, but they will not use a formula for determining permanent spousal support at the end of the case. Instead, when a family judge reviews your case, they will consider several factors before making a final support determination, including:
- The length of the marriage or domestic partnership, including any periods of separation
- The standard of living both parties experienced during the marriage or domestic partnership
- The amount each party pays or can pay to maintain this standard of living
- The age and health of both parties
- The separate income and earning potential of both parties
- Whether one spouse helped the other obtain an education, training, career advancement, or professional licensing
- Whether one spouse’s career was impacted by periods of unemployment necessary to perform domestic or childrearing duties
- Whether obtaining a job would make it difficult to raise children
- Any documented evidence of domestic violence in the relationship, including criminal convictions
- The debts and property of the couple
- The tax implications of spousal support
Length of the Marriage
The length of the marriage affects the duration of the spousal support payment with the goal of providing the lower-earning spouse the ability to financially support themselves within a reasonable period after divorce. If the marriage lasted for less than ten years, the judge typically awards alimony for half the length of the marriage. However, the judge is not required to follow this rule and can make support determinations at their own discretion based on the circumstances of the case. If the marriage lasted for more than ten years, the judge could award spousal support payments over a longer period.
After the length of the marriage, the next most crucial factor for spousal support determinations is the earning capacity of each party. When assessing the earning capacity of each party, the judge will consider:
- The skills of the recipient parent
- The job market for these skills
- The time and expense required to acquire an education or training to enhance existing skills, acquire new skills, or secure a job
- The extent to which the lower-earning parent’s earning capacity was affected by keeping the home or raising children during the relationship
Finally, the judge is obligated to assess any documented evidence of domestic violence. If the paying spouse has a history of abusive behavior, the judge will evaluate how violence contributed to the emotional distress of the other spouse. If the recipient spouse has been convicted of a domestic violence crime against the other spouse, the judge may consider them ineligible for spousal support.
Are You Eligible for Spousal Support?
If you are facing divorce and need to determine your options for spousal support, contact Paula D. Kleinman today to discuss your case. Over the past two decades of my career in family law, I have negotiated many alimony arrangements for California couples. When you work with my firm, you will be communicating with me directly to explain your family dynamics, review the details of your case, and establish your goals for spousal support. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you build a secure foundation for your new life.