What Is Spousal Support?

A term commonly used for spousal support is “alimony.” It’s a payment one spouse makes to the other after they’re divorced to help the receiving spouse financially maintain a similar standard of living as they had during the marriage. 

There are two types of spousal support in California.

  • Temporary. This is defined as financial support paid by one spouse to the other while the divorce is in process. There’s no specific expiration date; it usually changes into either ending or as a permanent form of support once the divorce is finalized. It depends on how the divorce process proceeds. 
  • Permanent. Permanent spousal support is the amount the court orders as the divorce is finalized. The divorce court examines 14 factors when determining the amount and duration of permanent spousal support. 
    • What was the standard of living for both spouses during the marriage?
    • If both parties need to maintain the marital standard of living once divorced. 
    • If the person expected to pay support can afford it.
    • If one spouse contributed to the payer’s career and education, especially if it came at the expense of their career and education.
    • How long the marriage lasted.
    • What’s in the best interests of any dependent children.
    • If there was documented domestic violence between the spouses.
    • Whether there were criminal convictions of domestic violence by one spouse.
    • Any tax implications for both parties.
    • The age and overall health of each spouse.
    • Any hardships either spouse will face. 
    • If the marriage was short, what would it take for the recipient to become self-supporting in the future?
    • Any other relevant factors. 

Something that both spouses need to understand is that California expects both spouses to try and be self-supporting at some point after the divorce unless there is some circumstance that causes one spouse to be unable to work, such as a disability. Otherwise, spousal support provides income while lower-earning spouses develop skills to support themselves

What Amount of Spousal Support Will Be Ordered by the Court?

That develops on many of the same factors noted above as to what the court evaluates when considering ordering spousal support. Every marriage and divorce is unique so that no one-size-fits-all amount will be ordered. 

How Long Will the Paying Spouse Have to Pay Spousal Support?

That depends on several factors. One is the length of the marriage.

  • Short-term marriages. The state usually defines these as marriages that lasted less than ten years, and any spousal support ordered most often will not exceed half of the marriage’s duration.
  • Long-term marriages. These are marriages that lasted ten years or more. Often, the court won’t set a termination date for these. However, some circumstances can trigger a termination of spousal support, including:
    • Death of one of the spouses.
    • Remarriage or even cohabitation with a new partner. 

Can Spousal Support Be Changed or Ended Once the Court Orders It?

Because spousal support orders aren’t usually issued with a termination date, many people think they’re permanent and unchangeable. That’s not exactly the case, although getting the grant to order the changes isn’t always easy. Sometimes, the court will consider a motion to end or change the amount of spousal support. To find out if your spousal support order might be eligible for modification or termination, it’s highly recommended you work with an experienced spousal support attorney

In California, several recent court decisions have reinforced the idea that spousal support isn’t meant to be lifelong for the recipient but rather a transitional funding source until they can earn their own way. One sign that it could be changed or ended is if the original court order contains what’s known as a Gavron Warning. That warning contains language that indicates the court fully expects the recipient to find a way to support themselves within a reasonable amount of time.

Another situation that can lead to changes or termination is when one of the spouses experiences a significant financial change in their life. That could be the payer losing their job or being demoted to a lower income level, or it could be the recipient earning more money or coming into a financial windfall. If both spouses agree to the change or termination due to the change in financial circumstances of one or both of them, they can create an agreement for the court to order. If they disagree, they will need to go to court. 

What if My Ex Shows No Signs of Trying to Become Self-Supporting?

It’s advisable to bring in an experienced spousal support attorney. Before approaching the court about modifying or ending the support, you’ll want to gather evidence and develop a narrative demonstrating the ex’s unwillingness to take the steps they need to to become self-supporting. If the Gavron Warning (see above) is in the court order, the court will be more likely to consider changes. 

What Should I Do if I Need Help with Spousal Support?

Call Tomassian, Pimentel & Shapazian as soon as possible at 559-277-7300 to set up a consultation. We understand how stressful divorce and its details can be. Our team of experienced, knowledgeable family law attorneys can help guide you through the process of determining whether you will either pay or receive spousal support and what the amounts and terms are likely to be. We understand your future will be affected by this support, and we’re here to help you make it as equitable as possible.