Spousal Support in California

Spousal support, sometimes referred to as alimony, is awarded at the Court’s discretion in California. This means that the judge who presides over your divorce will ultimately decide whether or not spousal support will be awarded as well as the amount and duration of that spousal support. However, California Courts cannot arbitrarily award or deny spousal support requests. Judges must use their discretion within certain statutory parameters when making spousal support decisions.

California Law Requires Judges to Consider 14 Factors When Determining Spousal Support Issues

In fact, California family law stipulates some 14 statutory factors that must be considered before a judge can award spousal support, giving the Court broad discretion in its consideration of the divorcing parties’ circumstances. These circumstances take into consideration the couple’s previous standard of living during the marriage as well as the couples’ individual needs and ability to pay. But, don’t assume that a judge can indiscriminately decide spousal support awards and amounts. According to the factors outlined in Ca. Fam. § 4320, the Court must be able to justify its independent consideration, weigh all the statutory circumstances, and arrive at a “just and reasonable” decision—sometimes a very difficult task.

Once spousal support is determined to be necessary, the Court then considers the following:

• The earning capacities of the two parties and the ability to maintain their previous standard of living;
• Contributions each spouse made to the education, training, and job preparedness of the other;
• The ability of the supporting spouse to pay at the time of the support hearing (present circumstances, not past or future income);
• The needs of each party based on the standard of living they enjoyed during the duration of the marriage;
• Assets and debts of the parties;
• The duration of the marriage;
• Impact on the children if the custodial spouse is forced to work;
• Health and age of the divorcing couple;
• Presence of domestic violence in the marriage;
• The effect of tax consequences to each party if spousal support is awarded;
• The relative hardships each party will encounter in either the awarding or denying of spousal support;
• The reasonable amount of time it would require for the spousal support recipient to become self-supporting;
• A spousal abuse conviction;
• Any other circumstances or factors the Court believes are “just and equitable.”

Spousal Support is Not Guaranteed to Either Party according to California Law

California law does not have a hard and fast rule for the awarding or denying of spousal support, which means a divorcing party has no guarantee of receiving or having to pay spousal support. And, spousal support orders may be modified should the supported party no longer need financial assistance or a detrimental change has occurred in the obligating party’s ability to pay. If you need assistance with spousal support issues, you should consult with a qualified, experienced family law attorney to plan your strategy for seeing that your divorce or modification is presented appropriately to the Court.

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