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Questions Related to Spousal Support in California

Posted by Caroline D. Ham | Jun 29, 2020 | 0 Comments

spousal support

If you are pursuing a divorce in California, you likely have many questions. You might also be concerned about spousal support. Perhaps you are a stay-at-home parent who has not been working and you are worried about paying your bills. Or, perhaps you are concerned that your soon-to-be ex-spouse will demand too much spousal support and you will not be able to pay your bills. Below we will answer some of the most commonly asked questions regarding spousal support in California.

What is Spousal Support or Alimony?

California family law calls alimony “spousal support.” Spousal support is the payment from one spouse, also known as the payor spouse, to another spouse, called the payee spouse, after a divorce. After a divorce, the court will enter an order that requires one spouse to make payments to another spouse. You will not have to pay spousal support unless there is an official court order requiring you to do so. 

How Long Does Alimony Last?

In California, spouses have a right to request temporary alimony or permanent alimony, or both. The goal of temporary alimony is to provide some financial support to the spouse who earns less during the divorce proceeding. Temporary alimony lasts until the court finalizes the divorce. The court has the option to impose permanent alimony in the final divorce decree. 

How do Courts Determine Temporary Alimony?

There are a few different family law software programs out there that will automatically generate an amount of spousal support based on specific factors, including the following:

  • The spouses' incomes
  • Health insurance deductions
  • Other payments for which one spouse is responsible

At Ham Family Law, we can review your case and help you determine how much spousal support you should request. If you are the spouse who will likely pay spousal support, we can help you ensure that you will not overpay.

How is Permanent Alimony Calculated?

What happens when two spouses cannot agree on the amount of permanent alimony? When this happens, the spouses will likely end up in court as part of their divorce negotiations. A judge will decide how long your spousal support will last and how much will be paid. Courts will consider whether each spouse's income is sufficient to keep up the marital standard of living.

What Factors Play Into Determining the Amount of Spousal Support?

Courts will look at the following factors when determining how much spousal support to award to a spouse:

  • Whether a spouse's earning capacity is impaired by periods of unemployment. For example, a spouse might have stopped working periodically to spend time on domestic duties
  • The marketable skills of each spouse
  • The job market for each spouse's skills
  • The expense and time it will take for the supported spouse to gain the necessary education or training to develop those job skills
  • The need for the supported spouse to acquire greater education or more marketable skills
  • The extent to which the supported spouse paid for the paying spouse's education, career, training, or license
  • The paying spouse's ability to pay alimony when considering the spouse's earning capacity, unearned income, earned income, assets, and standard of living
  • The longevity of the marriage
  • The health and age of the spouses
  • Both spouse's assets and debts, including each spouse's separate property
  • The standard of living for both spouses during the marriage
  • The financial needs of both spouses

How to Determine How Long Alimony Will Last

The phrase “permanent” alimony is kind of a misnomer. Very few orders for alimony continue permanently. In many cases, when a marriage lasts less than 10 years, a judge will not order alimony payments for longer than half of the length of the marriage. For example, if a marriage lasted for eight years, the judge might order alimony payments for four years. When the marriage was extremely short, the judge must not even order alimony. This is not a hard and fast rule, however. Keep in mind that the court has significant discretion when it comes to ordering alimony payments. 

What Happens When Marriage is Long?

When a marriage has lasted a long time, 10 years or more, a judge will still consider the various factors listed above. If one spouse lacks the job skills to make enough money to survive, for example, the judge will likely order alimony payments for a period of time long enough for the supported spouse to receive sufficient job training. 

Can I Modify Alimony?

Sometimes, the court will require you to pay an amount of alimony that you consider to be unfair. It is possible to challenge the amount or length of the alimony payment. Either spouse has a right to request that the amount or duration of alimony be changed or modified. However, if the original marital settlement agreement states that the alimony amount is “non-modifiable,” you will not be able to change the alimony amount or duration. 

There are two key ways to modify a spousal support agreement in California. You and your ex-spouse can agree to change the duration or amount of alimony by both agreeing to a written contract that spells out the new agreement. You will then need to request that the judge enter your agreement as an official court order.

When you cannot agree on a change with your spouse, you will need to petition the court to modify the alimony. Courts will require that you show a “material change of circumstances” from the period when the court entered the original alimony order. 

Contact an Experienced Alimony Lawyer as Soon as Possible


If you have questions about alimony, the best thing you can do is to contact an experienced alimony lawyer as soon as possible. Our lawyers have extensive experience in the area of divorce and family law. Whatever your needs are, we can help advocate for your best interests. Contact us today to schedule your initial consultation.

About the Author

Caroline D. Ham

Caroline D. Ham Ms. Ham has practiced exclusively in the field of family law since she was admitted to practice in 2009. She specializes in complex divorce, custody, support, paternity, domestic violence matters and mediation. Ms. Ham understands the complex emotional feelings a family law matte...

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