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Spousal support, also known as alimony, is a crucial aspect of family law that often arises during divorce proceedings. In California, the courts may order one spouse to provide financial support to the other, based on various factors.

However, many individuals going through divorce wonder if it’s possible to avoid spousal support altogether. In this blog post, we’ll explore the intricacies of spousal support in California, the factors influencing its determination, and whether it can be avoided.

Understanding Spousal Support in California:

Spousal support is financial assistance provided by one spouse to the other after divorce or separation. The primary objective is to help the supported spouse maintain a standard of living similar to that enjoyed during the marriage. California law recognizes two types of spousal support: temporary and permanent.

Types of Spousal Support:

  1. Temporary Spousal Support:

Temporary spousal support is awarded during the divorce proceedings and is designed to address the immediate financial needs of the supported spouse. The court uses a guideline formula to calculate temporary support, taking into account factors such as the income and needs of each spouse, the standard of living during the marriage, and other relevant considerations. It provides financial stability for the supported spouse while the divorce is ongoing.  This is generally filed at the beginning of the divorce to ensure the lower earning spouse has access to funds to fully support them while the case is pending and the parties are figuring out the division of assets and debts.  

  1. Permanent Spousal Support:

Permanent spousal support, on the other hand, is determined after the divorce is finalized. It is based on a set of statutory factors outlined in California Family Code Section 4320 rather than the guideline calculation.  In fact, the court cannot use the guideline calculation in determining permanent support.   Contrary to the name, “permanent” doesn’t necessarily mean lifelong support, it is designed to differ from temporary support. It is intended to provide financial assistance for a reasonable period to help the supported spouse become self-supporting.  If the marriage is of long term duration, longer than 10 years, there will not be a termination date.  

Factors Influencing Spousal Support:

California Family Code Section 4320 outlines the factors that the court considers when determining permanent spousal support. Some of these factors include:

Length of Marriage

Courts often consider the duration of the marriage when deciding the amount and duration of spousal support. Longer marriages may lead to higher and longer-lasting support orders. The court considers marriages of different lengths and may apply varying criteria based on whether the marriage is classified as short-term, mid-term, or long-term.

Earning Capacity and Income of Each Spouse

The court evaluates the financial resources and earning capacity of each spouse. If one spouse has a significantly higher income or earning potential, they may be required to provide support. This analysis includes examining each spouse’s marketable skills, job opportunities, and the time and expenses required for the supported spouse to acquire education or training.

Evaluating Current Income:

The court assesses the current income of each spouse when determining spousal support. If one spouse has a significantly higher income than the other, the court may consider this disparity in income as a basis for awarding spousal support. For instance, if one spouse earns a substantial salary while the other has a lower income or no income at all, spousal support may be deemed necessary to balance the financial scales.

Future Earning Potential:

The court looks at the future earning potential of each spouse. Factors such as education, skills, work experience, and market demand for those skills are considered. If one spouse has the potential for career advancement or higher-paying employment, the court may factor this into spousal support calculations. This consideration is essential in determining the duration and amount of support.

Education and Training:

If one spouse sacrificed education or career opportunities during the marriage, and as a result has limited earning capacity, the court may award spousal support. This allows the supported spouse the opportunity to pursue education or training to enhance their skills and improve their employability.

Disability and Employment Constraints:

In cases where a spouse has a disability that affects their ability to work or limits their employment options, the court may award spousal support. This recognizes the challenges faced by the disabled spouse in achieving financial independence and aims to provide necessary support for their well-being.

Disparities in Income:

The court considers disparities in income between the spouses. If one spouse earned a substantial income while the other contributed to the marriage in non-monetary ways (e.g., homemaking, child-rearing), the court may award spousal support to address the financial discrepancies and ensure that both parties can maintain a reasonable standard of living.

Impact of Unemployment or Underemployment:

If a spouse is unemployed or underemployed voluntarily, the court may impute income based on their earning capacity. Imputing income means attributing an income level to the unemployed or underemployed spouse based on their education, skills, and past employment history. This prevents spouses from intentionally reducing their income to manipulate spousal support outcomes.

Standard of Living During Marriage

The standard of living during marriage is a key factor in spousal support determinations, as it reflects the lifestyle to which both spouses became accustomed. Courts strive to ensure that the supported spouse can continue to enjoy a lifestyle reasonably consistent with what was established during the marriage. It is essential for individuals seeking spousal support to provide detailed information about the standard of living during the marriage to allow the court to make fair and informed decisions. Consulting with experienced family law attorneys can help individuals navigate the complexities of spousal support and present a compelling case that addresses the unique aspects of their marital lifestyle. 

Luxurious Lifestyle:

If the couple enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle during the marriage, involving expensive vacations, high-end residences, and a substantial level of spending, the court may consider this when determining spousal support. The goal is to ensure that the supported spouse can continue to afford a lifestyle consistent with the standard established during the marriage.

Educational and Recreational Activities:

If the standard of living during the marriage included private schooling for children, participation in extracurricular activities, and regular family vacations, the court may factor these elements into spousal support calculations. The supported spouse may be awarded support to enable them to provide a similar level of educational and recreational opportunities for their children.

Real Estate and Housing:

In cases where the couple lived in a high-value home or owned multiple properties during the marriage, the court may take this into account. The supported spouse may be awarded spousal support to help maintain housing arrangements consistent with the standard of living during the marriage.

Cultural and Social Activities:

If the standard of living involved regular attendance at cultural events, memberships to exclusive clubs, or participation in social activities, the court may consider these factors. Spousal support may be awarded to allow the supported spouse to continue participating in similar cultural and social experiences.

Travel and Entertainment:

If the couple frequently traveled, attended concerts, or engaged in other forms of entertainment, the court may take these lifestyle choices into consideration. Spousal support may be awarded to ensure that the supported spouse can maintain a comparable level of travel and entertainment post-divorce.

Financial Contributions to Standard of Living:

If one spouse significantly contributed to the standard of living through substantial financial support, business ventures, or investments, the court may recognize these contributions. Spousal support may be awarded to acknowledge the supported spouse’s role in maintaining the standard of living.

  1. Contributions to the Marriage: Contributions to the marriage, both financial and non-financial, are taken into account. This includes factors such as homemaking, child-rearing, and supporting the other spouse’s career. Non-monetary contributions are valued, and the court recognizes the importance of equitable compensation for the sacrifices made during the marriage.
  2. Age and Health of the Parties: The age and health of each spouse can impact their ability to earn income and support themselves. The court considers the physical and mental health of both parties when determining spousal support orders. Health-related factors may influence the duration and amount of support awarded.

Here are examples of how age and health can sway a court when deciding on spousal support amount and duration:

Diminished Earning Capacity:

If the supported spouse is of advanced age and experiences health issues that limit their ability to work or find employment, the court may be inclined to award higher spousal support. Age-related limitations, such as reduced mobility or chronic health conditions, can impact the supported spouse’s earning capacity, leading to a longer duration of support.

Retirement and Fixed Income:

If the supporting spouse is close to retirement age and has a stable, fixed income through retirement benefits, and the supported spouse is younger and lacks such financial security, the court may award spousal support to bridge the gap. The court considers disparities in the parties’ financial situations and aims to ensure both spouses maintain a reasonably comparable standard of living.

Healthcare Costs:

If one party has significant health issues that require ongoing medical treatment or expenses, the court may factor in these healthcare costs when determining spousal support. The supported spouse’s health condition may necessitate higher support to cover medical expenses, and the court may extend the duration of support to provide ongoing financial assistance.

Impact on Employability:

Suppose the supporting spouse is in good health and has the potential for continued employment, while the supported spouse, due to health issues, faces challenges in finding or maintaining employment. In such cases, the court may consider the impact of health on employability and may award spousal support for a longer duration to allow the supported spouse to secure stable financial footing.

Disability and Dependence:

If the supported spouse has a disability that limits their ability to work and become financially independent, the court may award spousal support for an extended period. Disabilities can significantly impact earning capacity, and the court aims to address the unique challenges faced by disabled spouses in achieving self-sufficiency.

Life Expectancy:

In cases where there is a substantial age difference between the spouses, and the older spouse has a shorter life expectancy, the court may consider this factor when determining spousal support duration. The goal is to ensure that the supported spouse receives adequate support for the duration of their likely remaining years.

  1. Duration of Spousal Support:

The court typically aims to provide support for a duration that allows the supported spouse to become self-supporting. The duration may be influenced by factors such as the supported spouse’s ability to secure employment, complete education or training programs, and achieve financial independence. However, in certain cases, spousal support may be of indefinite duration, especially in long-term marriages where the supported spouse faces challenges in becoming self-supporting.  Long term marriage is anything at least ten years, these marriages are treated differently as there are many more factors to consider such as work history and ability to be employed.  

Can Spousal Support Be Avoided?

While it is challenging to completely avoid spousal support in California, there are strategies that individuals can explore:

Prenuptial and Postnuptial Agreements

Couples can proactively address spousal support in prenuptial or postnuptial agreements. These legal documents allow spouses to agree on the terms of spousal support, potentially avoiding lengthy court battles.

Prenuptial agreements, commonly known as prenups, are legal documents that couples create before getting married. These agreements allow spouses to define the terms of various financial matters, including spousal support, in the event of a divorce. By clearly outlining expectations and responsibilities, couples can potentially avoid uncertainties and disagreements regarding spousal support during divorce proceedings.

Similar to prenuptial agreements, postnuptial agreements are created after marriage. They enable spouses to address financial matters, including spousal support, at any point during the marriage. While it may be more challenging to negotiate postnuptial agreements, they can still be effective in establishing clear guidelines for spousal support in the event of a divorce.

Earning Capacity and Job Opportunities

The supported spouse may be encouraged to enhance their earning capacity through education or job training. This could potentially lead to a reduced need for spousal support or a shorter duration of support.

Education and Training:

The supported spouse may consider pursuing additional education or job training to enhance their earning capacity. By acquiring new skills or qualifications, they can increase their opportunities for employment and potentially reduce the need for long-term spousal support. Courts often consider the supported spouse’s ability to contribute to their financial well-being when determining support orders.

Career Advancement:

Encouraging the supported spouse to pursue career advancement opportunities can also be a strategic approach. This may involve seeking promotions, taking on additional responsibilities, or exploring new career paths. A demonstrated effort to improve one’s financial standing can influence the court’s decision on the duration and amount of spousal support.

Negotiation and Mediation

Collaborative divorce methods, such as negotiation and mediation, provide spouses with the opportunity to reach a mutually agreeable spousal support arrangement outside of court. This can result in a more tailored and flexible agreement.

Collaborative Divorce:

Choosing collaborative divorce methods, such as negotiation and mediation, provides spouses with a platform to openly discuss and negotiate spousal support terms. Through facilitated communication, couples can work together to reach a mutually agreeable solution that takes into account their specific circumstances. This collaborative approach often results in more flexible and customized agreements compared to court-imposed orders.

Creative Settlements:

Negotiation and mediation allow for creative and tailored settlements that may include lump-sum payments, property transfers, or other financial arrangements in lieu of traditional spousal support. Parties can work together to find solutions that meet their unique needs and financial circumstances.

Retirement and Assets

The distribution of retirement benefits and assets during divorce can impact spousal support calculations. Understanding how these factors interplay is crucial in negotiating support terms.

Property Division:

The distribution of assets and retirement benefits during divorce can impact spousal support calculations. Careful consideration of how property is divided can influence the overall financial picture. For example, allocating certain assets to the supported spouse may offset the need for spousal support, as those assets can contribute to their financial stability post-divorce.

Retirement Planning:

Understanding the implications of retirement benefits on spousal support is crucial. Retirement plans and pensions acquired during the marriage are considered community property in California. Negotiating the division of these assets strategically can impact spousal support calculations.


While complete avoidance of spousal support may be challenging, a proactive and strategic approach can significantly influence the outcome. Engaging in open communication, exploring creative settlement options, and addressing financial aspects through legal agreements can empower individuals to navigate the complexities of spousal support in California.

Seeking guidance from experienced family law attorneys is essential to developing a comprehensive strategy tailored to the unique circumstances of each case. By taking proactive steps and considering various options, individuals can work towards achieving fair and equitable resolutions in their divorce proceedings.

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