When a California couple divorces, the higher earning spouse may be required to financially support the lower earning spouse for a certain period of time. Also known as alimony, California law refers to these payments as “spousal support.” The purpose of spousal support is to ease the transition out of marriage to becoming an independent single person. Alimony is typically awarded in cases where one spouse has sacrificed their career and education advancement to devote time to domestic responsibilities.
Determining Spousal Support in a California Divorce
To determine if and how much alimony is appropriate during a California divorce, the judge will consider the following:
- the supported spouse’s ability to support themselves (job skills, the market for those skills, education, etc.)
- the extent to which the supported spouse’s career was harmed by taking time off work for domestic duties
- if the supported spouse contributed to the supporting spouse’s higher education or career advancement
- the supporting spouse’s earning capacity and ability to pay alimony
- the income, assets, and existing obligations of each party
- the interests of the dependent children of the supported spouse
- the age and general health of each party
- potential tax consequences to either party
- a history of domestic violence
Domestic Violence and Alimony
In most cases, marital misconduct (such as adultery) is not considered when determining alimony. An exception is made in cases where there is a history of documented domestic violence within a marriage. This includes physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, as well as other forms of spousal abuse. If the perpetrator of the violence is the would-be supported spouse, the judge may decide to withhold spousal support.
Duration of Spousal Support
The courts are given wide discretion to determine how long spousal support should continue. The judge’s decision is mostly based on how long it should take for the supported spouse to become self-supporting. The general guideline for alimony duration is half the length of the marriage. If you were married eight years, the judge may order four years of spousal support, give or take a year depending on the circumstances.
A notable exception to the “half the length of the marriage” rule applies to marriages that last longer than ten years. In marriages of long duration, a judge may not set a termination date for alimony payments. The supporting spouse must petition the court to decrease or end alimony payments and be able to demonstrate that spousal support is no longer needed. However, the purpose of spousal support is always to be a stepping stone towards self-sufficiency. Even when “permanent” alimony is awarded, the supported spouse should understand the courts are hesitant to allow lifetime support unless it is necessary.
Orange County CA Divorce Attorneys
If you are considering a divorce, it is important to seek counsel from an experienced divorce and family law attorney as soon as possible. The attorneys at R & S Law Group, LLP can help you with your family law matters during this challenging time. Contact our office in Orange, California to request a free consultation.