Spousal Support

Businesswoman talking on phone holding sleeping baby

One of the biggest concerns during a dissolution (divorce) is maintaining the marital standard of living. Whereas before there was one household to maintain, now there will be two. Often the lower income earning spouse will have insufficient funds to pay for on-going expenses and may also need money (i.e., spousal support) for the time it takes to re-enter the workforce and possibly acquire new work skills.

Spousal Support/Alimony

Spousal support (commonly referred to as alimony) is available to married couples and registered domestic partners.  There are two significant aspects to spousal support: the amount of support and the duration of support.

Duration of Award: Short-Term vs. Long-Term Marriages

To determine the duration of support, California distinguishes between two types of marriages: (1) short-term marriages and (2) long-term marriages. A short term marriage is one that has lasted less than ten years, and a long term marriage is one lasting ten years or longer. The measurement of time is from the date of marriage to the date of separation.

For short term marriages, the court will typically make an award for one-half (1/2) the time of the length of the marriage. So if the couple was married for six years, the spousal support will be made over a period of three years, usually in monthly payments. For long term marriages (greater than 10 years), spousal support can be ordered indefinitely. Indefinite support typically only occurs if the receiving spouse is elderly, sick, or cannot support himself/herself. Where the spouse is still relatively young and is employed, or can obtain employment, the court will make an award for greater than one-half the length of the marriage but less than indefinite support.

Guideline Spousal Support

The starting point for determining the amount of spousal support, known as guideline spousal support is determined by complex formulas that vary from county to county. Regardless of the county, what is consistent is that guideline spousal support factors in income and the ongoing debts and obligations of each party.

Temporary & Permanent Spousal Support Award Orders

The court usually will make a temporary spousal support award during the dissolution proceedings, and then a permanent spousal award upon the conclusion of the dissolution. The temporary spousal support calculation is generally the amount calculated as guideline support, whereas for permanent spousal support the court must consider a host of factors including the marketable skills of each party, the impact of time spent attending to domestic duties, the ability to pay, the standard of living during the marriage, obligations and assets, the age and health of the each party.   Bonus payments and deferred income can also be a factor in awarding temporary and permanent spousal support. In order for the court to make this calculation, the court must have the proper evidence and the evidence must be presented in the best possible light. For this reason, having an attorney review your circumstances (and those of your spouse) is critical, if your case is to be presented properly.

Waiving Spousal Support

A spouse can waive his/her right to spousal support. In fact, as part of a dissolution settlement, one spouse will often agree make a one-time payment in exchange for the other spouse waiving his/her right to spousal support.

The Value of an Attorney in Spousal Support Proceedings

It is important to have an attorney represent you during this process. In many cases the higher earning spouse may attempt to hide income or assets in order to reduce support payments. Similarly, a spouse requesting spousal support may either inflate their expenses or willfully fail to earn as much income as he/she could. An experienced attorney will be able to properly defend your rights and make sure that you receive, or pay, the amount of spousal support you are due under the law