When a couple legally separates or dissolves their marriage, the court may order one spouse to pay the other a certain amount of financial support each month. This is defined as spousal support (also known as “alimony”).
OPENING A SPOUSAL SUPPORT CASE
A spouse can request an order for spousal support from the court as part of one of two types of family law cases:
- Divorce, Legal Separation or Annulment
- Domestic Violence Restraining Order
TEMPORARY SPOUSAL SUPPORT
Temporary spousal support is a support amount paid by one spouse to the other while their family law case is in process and awaiting final judgment.
Courts generally use a formula to calculate the amount of temporary spousal support, which depend on factors such as whether or not child support is involved. The court will order temporary support based on this formula.
PERMANENT SPOUSAL SUPPORT
A court may also order one spouse to continue paying spousal support once a divorce becomes final, as part of a divorce judgment. This is defined as permanent (or long-term) spousal support.
The court will not use a formula to determine permanent spousal support. Instead, the court is required to consider factors set forth in Family Code section 4320, which include but are not limited to the following:
- Length of the marriage
- Standard of living during the marriage
- Earnings and earning capacity of each spouse to maintain the marital standard of living
- Whether one spouse’s career was affected due to caring for minor children and/or attending to domestic duties
- Whether one spouse contributed to the education, training, career or professional license of the other spouse
- Whether it would be difficult for one spouse to work without interfering with the care of the minor children
- The ability of a spouse to be self-supporting within a reasonable amount of time
- Age and health of each spouse
- Debts and assets
- Whether there was domestic violence in the marriage
- Whether there is a criminal conviction of an abusive spouse
- Tax consequence for each spouse
Once a court determines the amount of spousal support based on these factors, the support order becomes a part of the divorce judgment (the parties’ final judgment).
SPOUSAL SUPPORT AGREEMENT
If the spouses are able to agree on a spousal support amount, they do not have to request a hearing. The spouses can agree to an amount and submit their agreement for a court’s approval. If approved and signed by the judge, the agreement becomes an enforceable spousal support order.
LENGTH OF SPOUSAL SUPPORT
Spousal support generally ends when:
- A court order or final judgment states when support will terminate;
- The spouse receiving support becomes self-supporting;
- The spouse receiving support remarries; or
- One of the spouses dies.
In California, marriages of 10 years or more are defined as “long term” marriages, and marriages of less than 10 years are considered “short term” marriages. Generally, the court will not order a termination date for spousal support for long term marriages. Conversely, for short term marriages, the court will not order spousal support for more than one-half the term of the marriage. This is because there is a presumption that a spouse seeking support should be self-supporting within a reasonable period of time, which is presumed to be one-half of the marriage (unless the marriage was longer than 10 years). For example, if a marriage lasted 4 years, spousal support will be ordered for 2 years.
Spousal support is a complex area of the law that can become highly contested. Whether you are seeking spousal support or responding to a request for support, contact us today for a free confidential phone consultation so we can help you understand spousal support and how long support may and provide you with an assessment of how you will need to proceed.