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Spousal support, or alimony, is an amount ordered or agreed upon paid from one spouse to another in a legal separation, dissolution of domestic partnership, or divorce matter. Spousal support is generally intended to help an economically disadvantaged spouse (i.e. the spouse with a lower income) continue to enjoy a similar standard of living after the marriage ends.
In the majority of cases, the spouse who earns a higher income is ordered to pay spousal support to the other spouse. Whether you are seeking spousal support or you think you may be ordered to pay spousal support, our spousal support lawyers can represent your best interests in the courts so you get a fair judgment.
Spousal support is not a right, nor is it guaranteed. It is not intended to punish a spouse for perceived misbehavior during the marriage or after separation, nor is it a reward or consolation prize for having tolerated perceived maltreatment during the marriage or after separation because California is a no-fault state.
California law provides for two distinct kinds of spousal support: temporary and permanent.
Temporary Spousal Support [Alimony] in California
- Temporary Spousal Support or pendente lite (meaning “pending the litigation”) support, is paid when appropriate until a complete Marital Settlement Agreement is reached, or until a Final Order of Divorce is entered.
In some situations, the family court may grant temporary spousal support to be paid while the divorce case is being resolved or litigated. Temporary spousal support orders are subject to California Family Code 3600 and generally have nothing to do with the length of the marriage (except in unusual circumstances where the length of the marriage is extremely short).
Temporary Spousal Support – Family Code 3600 (Pre-Judgment Support)
During the pendency of any proceeding for dissolution of marriage or for legal separation of the parties or under Division 8 (commencing with Section 3000) (custody of children) or in any proceeding where there is at issue the support of a minor child or a child for whom support is authorized under Section 3901 or 3910 , the court may order (a) either spouse to pay any amount that is necessary for the support of the other spouse, consistent with the requirements of subdivisions (i) and (m) of Section 4320 and Section 4325 , or (b) either or both parents to pay any amount necessary for the support of the child, as the case may be.
Divorce cases can take years to become finalized and in appropriate circumstances, a temporary spousal support order “is utilized to maintain the living conditions and standards of the parties in as close to the status quo position as possible pending trial and the division of their assets and obligations.” In re Marriage of Burlini (1983) 143 Cal. App. 3d 65, 68 (see also In re Marriage of McNaughton (1983) 145 Cal. App. 3d 845, 849).
Temporary support is intended “to assure a spouse substantially the same living conditions to which he or she has been accustomed pending final judgment.” Hogoboom & King, Cal. Practice Guide: Family Law 1 (The Rutter Group 1992) § 5:7.4, p. 5-6.
Permanent Spousal Support [Alimony] – Family Code 4320 (Post-Judgment Support)
- Permanent Spousal Support or post-judgment spousal support, is support for an indefinite period of time in an amount that could be later modified if and when the circumstances change for either the payer or recipient of support.
Permanent spousal support provides financial assistance, if appropriate, as determined by the financial circumstances of the parties after their dissolution and the division of community property.
When determining the final amount of spousal support, California family courts must consider the factors in Family Code Section 4320. These factors include:
- The length of the marriage
- The needs of each spouse based on the standard of living they had during their marriage
- The earnings of each spouse (See Proving Self-Employed Income of a Spouse and Imputing Income to a Spouse via Family Code 4058).
- Whether a job would make it difficult to care for any children of the marriage (See Best Interest of the Child Standard).
- Age of both spouses
- Health of both spouses
- Debts and assets of both spouses (Especially following final distribution in the divorce case; see Is Your House Community or Separate Property and Reimbursement to the Community for Separate Debt Payments During Marriage)
- Whether one spouse was directly responsible for helping another spouse obtain education, training, or a professional license
- Instances of domestic violence between the spouses
- Whether one spouse’s career was impacted by periods of unemployment resulting from taking care of children of the marriage
- Tax impact of spousal support, if any
- Marketable skills of each spouse
- And any other factors the court deems fair and just under the circumstances
California law makes provisions for ensuring spouses are not left destitute by a divorce in cases where they can demonstrate that they were financially dependent on their spouse.
Spousal Support Termination and Modification
In California, spousal support is automatically terminated upon death or remarriage of the supported party. If there is a major change in the financial situation of either party, the court can make modifications to the support order as well.
Spousal support is subject to review if the circumstances have changed enough to warrant a change in support. This occurs in some cases when the parties’ minor child reaches the age of majority and leaves the home, child support terminates, child custody is modified in some substantial way (by court order or agreement), one of the parties loses his or her job, etc.
Enforcing and Collecting Spousal Support
Once a court orders a spouse to pay spousal support or alimony, he or she must comply with the court’s instructions. Failure to pay spousal support is considered a violation of a family court order and can have serious legal consequences. If the court determines that a spouse is able to pay support but fails to do so, the court can hold the spouse in “contempt of court” and a warrant could be issued for his or her arrest. This is often used as a last resort, when all other enforcement tools have failed.
If a spouse’s financial situation changes, he or she loses their job, or the spouse receiving the support no longer needs it, either party can ask the court to change the spousal support order. However, a support order does not disappear or change unless the terms of the order provides for such, or the court makes an order modifying the terms of the order.
Contact Our Experienced California Spousal Support Lawyers Now
Spouses can rely on the experience of our divorce attorneys in obtaining, modifying, and terminating spousal support orders and agreements. Our attorneys will advise you every step of the way so that the process feels less confusing and frustrating from beginning to end. We provide representation for parties seeking to secure spousal support or who are faced with unmanageable spousal support obligations. Call the experienced family law attorneys at Talkov Law at (844) 4-TALKOV (825568) or contact us online for a free consultation about your case. Learn how our experienced spousal support attorney, Colleen Sparks, can guide you through the court process in a prompt and clear manner.