Alimony in California may be available to a spouse or domestic partner in cases of divorce, legal separation, or annulment. Where a court issues a domestic violence restraining order against a spouse, that spouse may be ordered to pay alimony.

Read on to find out the various types of spousal support in California and how support is determined, calculated, modified, and terminated.

Ordering Spousal Support in California

Under the California Family Code section 4320, a court shall consider the following factors before ordering one spouse to pay alimony to the other:

  • The ability of each spouse to maintain the marital standard of living
  • The earning capacity of each spouse, considering the relevant skills of each spouse, the marketability of their skills, the potential need for retraining or getting an education, and the time and resources needed to acquire such education or training
  • The extent to which a spouse’s earning capacity has been impaired by stints of unemployment during marriage to focus on domestic duties
  • The contribution of the supported spouse towards the attainment of education, training, job position, or license of the supporting spouse
  • The supporting spouse’s ability to pay alimony, considering their earning capacity, assets, and living standards
  • Each spouse’s needs based on their living standard during the marriage
  • The liabilities and assets of each spouse
  • The supported spouse’s ability to work a gainful job without overly interfering with the dependent children’s interests
  • The age and health of both spouses
  • The duration of the marriage
  • Record of domestic violence between the spouses or against children
  • The projection that the requesting spouse shall attain financial independence within a reasonable period
  • The criminal conviction of a spouse due to domestic abuse
  • Any other factors considered just and equitable

Types of Spousal Support California Court May Order

California courts will consider various factors to determine the type of alimony that best fits a spouse during divorce or separation. A rule of thumb is that spousal support lasts for half the length of the spouses’ marriage if it is less than 10 years long.

For longer marriages, the court doesn’t place a limit on the support order. Instead, the supporting spouse will at some point need to prove to the court that the other spouse doesn’t need the financial support.

Below, we look at the kinds of spousal support a California court may order during separation or divorce.

– Temporary Spousal Support

It is also referred to as pendente lite, which is Latin for “during litigation.” The supported spouse requests the court to order this type of alimony during divorce proceedings. When granted, temporary alimony starts from the date it is requested to the time a judge issues the final divorce decree.

Temporary spousal support allows the lower-earning spouse to meet their reasonable needs during the pendency of a divorce. To determine the amount of temporary support, the court doesn’t always consider the spousal support factors listed. Instead, it uses the state’s child support guidelines to determine the temporary spousal support amount.

– Rehabilitative Spousal Support

It is the commonest type of spousal maintenance in California divorce cases. Rehabilitative support is applicable where the higher-earning spouse was the family’s primary provider while the other held homemaking responsibilities.

This type of alimony is meant to provide the lower-earning spouse with enough support as they seek to be self-supporting. Essentially, it comes in handy as they look to gain an education or valuable job skills to reenter the workforce.

– Permanent Spousal Support

Also referred to as long-term spousal support, this kind of alimony is rarely awarded and is reserved for marriages that have lasted 10 or more years. A court may also order long-term alimony in cases where the supported spouse can’t engage in any gainful employment due to illness or advanced age.

In addition to the duration of the marriage, a court must consider most of the factors for alimony as outlined above. While permanent spousal support may continue for a long time, no specific rule determines how long permanent alimony should last.

A judge will consider those factors that will likely place the supported spouse in a position as close as possible to the marital living standard. In most cases where long-term alimony is granted, it continues until the supported spouse attains self-sufficiency.

– Reimbursement Spousal Support

In California, there is a unique form of spousal support known as reimbursement support. It may be granted where one spouse financed the education, training, or career progression of the other spouse during marriage. Such a spouse could request an award for reimbursement support to recover the funds used during their marriage.

The reasoning behind reimbursement spousal support is that when one spouse supports the other in advancing their career, both spouses will benefit from such advancements. However, when such a couple divorces, only the spouse with a good career will benefit. Courts deem this unfair to the other spouse and therefore provide reimbursement spousal support.

Calculating California Spousal Support

If a court grants temporary spousal support, a judge will likely use a formula to calculate the amount of support to be paid. Courts in different counties may apply factors to calculate alimony in California, and your local court will explain how temporary support is to be calculated.

Therefore, it is advisable to check the local court’s rules for calculating temporary spousal support.

For any other type of spousal support, a judge will consider the factors for determining spousal support provided by the California Family Code.

Paying Spousal Support in California

Once the court makes a ruling on spousal support, it dictates how payment will be made by the supporting spouse. In case of a settlement agreement between spouses, a court will decide whether the preferred method of payment is appropriate.

In most cases, the payor spouse will make periodic alimony payments, say monthly. However, if the supporting spouse has a significant amount of money or separate property, the court may allow a lump-sum payment. Such payments come in handy for spouses who want to avoid the ongoing need to make payments to their ex-spouse.

Lump-sum payments also eliminate the possibility of the supported spouse seeking an increase in the future. However, the supported spouse doesn’t have to worry about the other spouse failing to pay spousal support.

Modifying and Terminating California Spousal Support

Do California alimony laws allow for the modification or termination of spousal support?

Yes. Either spouse may request that the court modify a spousal support award if there has been a material and significant change after divorce. Modification of a spousal support award is possible provided there isn’t a clause in the support order or marital settlement agreement stating that it is non-modifiable.

A spousal support order is modifiable in two ways: the amount or the duration. Both elements may also be modified simultaneously. If the spouses agree to a modification, the new agreement should be spelled out in a written contract. The agreement takes effect once a judge turns it into an official court order.

Where parties can’t agree on spousal support modification, they have to go to court for a decision. First, the party seeking modification of spousal support must file a motion with the court. They also have to prove that there has been a “material change of circumstances” from the date of the original support award.

An involuntary job loss could constitute a material change of circumstances. If the payor spouse’s income decreases, he/she may not be able to make spousal support payments as agreed. A judge may therefore find it appropriate to reduce the amount of spousal support.

Alimony laws in California also allow for the termination of spousal support. This is possible provided you can cite a change in circumstances that justifies termination. However, if the court order or the agreement between spouses was made non-terminable, then the award can’t be terminated before the date it is set to end.

A California court can terminate alimony if it establishes that the supported spouse isn’t making a good-faith effort to attain self-sufficiency. Spousal support may also be terminated if the payor spouse becomes ill or disabled to the extent that they can no longer make payments.

Spousal support obligation automatically terminates upon the death of either spouse. If the supported spouse dies before the support duration ends, the payor spouse stops making payments.

In that case, the supported spouse’s estate has no right to enforce the spousal support order to its benefit. Spousal support also ends when the supported spouse remarries or registers a new domestic partnership.

Falling Behind on Spousal Support Payments

A court order regarding payment of spousal support must be followed until the court modifies or ends it or its end date reaches. However, it is not uncommon for the payor spouse to fall behind on their payments.

Alimony rules in California provide that each late payment accrues a 10 percent interest per year, beginning that date of default. The additional amount is to be paid on top of the original ordered amount.

Enforcing Spousal Support in California

Under California alimony laws, there are several ways that a spousal support order may be enforced. Below, we look at the common ways of enforcing spousal support orders.

– Earnings Assignment

Also referred to as wage garnishment, earnings assignment is an employer payroll deduction from the payor spouse’s earnings. These deductions are payable to the supported spouse and are to be made by the employer within 10 days of receipt.

Wage garnishment is an efficient way of paying spousal support as the payor spouse doesn’t have to make payments directly to their ex-spouse. What’s more, it prevents the deliberate skipping of support payments.

– Contempt of Court

Willful disobedience of a spousal support order is a criminal offense, and contempt of court may be pursued to enforce a civil judgment. The petitioner in court contempt proceedings may file an Order to Show Cause, and the court will direct the other party to respond to the allegations.

If the petitioner shows that the payor spouse willfully refused to make payments, punishment may be imposed. Such punishment may include fines or a jail term.

Conclusion

In California, spousal support is meant to help lower-earning spouses regain their financial footing after separation or divorce.

With so much regarding spousal support in the state, what are the main things to remember?

  • Spousal support may be established through an agreement between spouses or a court order
  • If a court orders spousal support, the amount and duration of the award are determined by various factors, as in the California Family Code section 4320
  • Spousal support in California may be temporary, rehabilitative, long-term, or reimbursement spousal support
  • Spousal support may be modified or terminated if there is a “material change of circumstances” in the life of either spouse

Rules regarding spousal support vary from one county to the other in California. It is therefore important to understand the rules that apply to your local court to determine how the amount and duration of spousal support will be determined.

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