Spousal support, also known as alimony, is a legal obligation on a person to provide financial support to their spouse. Spousal support is generally issued in connection with legal separation or divorce cases. One spouse pays the other ex-spouse – whether the husband or wife – a certain sum of money. Courts may require this if one party earns much more than the other, and the other one needs assistance in maintaining their lifestyle close to the marital standard. It is generally awarded to a spouse who makes a lower income or has been out of work during the marriage. The purpose of spousal support in California is to preserve a person’s financial status to the greatest extent possible.
Spousal support is broken down into two types: temporary (pendente lite) or permanent (post-divorce judgment). Temporary spousal support is awarded during divorce proceedings and meant to maintain the living condition of both parties before divorce is finalized. Permanent spousal support is awarded after divorce is finalized and it is to provide the lower-earning spouse with adequate income to ensure that their needs are met and they’re able to maintain their standard of living.
Spousal support payments can be made on a monthly basis for a predetermined period of time, but can also consist of a single lump-sum payment. In some cases, spouses can have an agreement on the amount and conditions of support. And if the agreement meets legal requirements, it will be upheld by the court, even if it means that the lower-earning spouse will not receive any support.
Eligibility for Spousal Support in California
Spousal support is issued on a case-by-case basis, but in most cases, only persons who have been married for a longer duration (usually over 5 years) are eligible for support. Other factors that the court will take into consideration when making the support determination include:
- The assets and property owned by each spouse
- The earning capacity of each person
- Whether the parties shared a business
- Whether one party has significant debt
- Each party’s contribution to the relationship
- Physical and mental health conditions
- Whether the parties had a prenuptial agreement that set forth spousal support provisions
Length of Spousal Support
The length of spousal support is usually tied to the length of the marriage. As a general rule, the court will not order support for more than half the length of a marriage that lasted less than 10 years. However, the court will not set definite spousal support duration if a marriage lasted 10 years or longer. The party who pays will bear the burden of proof to show that spousal support is not needed at some point in time.
While post-divorce spousal support is often referred to as “permanent,” it is increasingly rare for true permanent support to be awarded, even for longer marriages. California courts require the spouse being supported to make efforts to become self-sustaining. A spouse who claims an inability to become fully employed or inability to work will have to support the claim with evidence. True permanent spousal support generally applies to spouses who cannot become self-supporting due to age or disability.
Spousal Support Modification
Once the court issues a spousal support order, it becomes final and enforceable by the law. The orders can, however, be modified due to unique or special circumstances that occur later on. For example, if one spouse loses their job and cannot pay or the other spouse gets a job or a significant rise in income, spousal support can be altered or terminated.
Hiring an Attorney for Spousal Support Issues
Filing for spousal support in California can require many statements, documents and other items needed to support a party’s arguments. You’ll also need a thorough understanding of the law to avoid hurting your case. A qualified family lawyer can help review the terms and negotiate with the other party to ensure that your needs are covered.
If you’re considering filing for alimony in California, or simply have questions, contact us for a free consultation today!