In the typical separation or divorce scenario, one spouse will be awarded spousal support payments. There are two types of spousal support payment obligations here in California: long-term and short-term. These spousal support payment obligations are aimed at providing the payee spouse the same or similar lifestyle he or she enjoyed during the marriage.
Please note that California has unique spousal support laws and they can be complex. For this reason, it is imperative that you hire an attorney who is experienced and knowledgeable of California’s spousal support laws.
How to Get Spousal Support in California
For spousal support to even be considered by the court, there must first be a court case. The court may order spousal support in one of the two following situations:
- You are involved in a divorce, legal separation or annulment; or
- You are involved with a domestic violence restraining order.
There are several factors that the judge MUST consider when awarding spousal support. First of all, your judge is required to consider the individual’s’ earning capacity and standard of living during their marriage. Here, the court will consider earning potential, or what the spouse is capable of earning to maintain a standard of living similar to what he or she had during the marriage. The court will also look at the spouse’s marketability, the local job market, time and/or expenses required for proper education and/or training, and any impairment of the spouse’s earning capacity.
Your judge will also consider the length of your marriage. The court typically orders long-term spousal support to last as long as your marriage did or for a reasonable period of time. Why? Well, the court’s intent, after all, is that the spouse who is receiving support will, in a reasonable amount of time, be able to reasonably (and legally) support himself or herself.
Note that this “reasonable period of time” varies from case to case. It is ultimately up to the judge. If you were married for more than 10 years, the judge may not place an end date on your spousal support.
Third, the judge must consider domestic violence. The judge will ask for and review any evidence of a history of domestic violence between you and your spouse. If there was abuse, the judge will determine if the spouse who is seeking support suffered from any emotional distress resulting from the violence.
Similarly, the judge will look into whether the spouse to be supported has a history of violence against the other spouse. California courts actually recognize a rebuttable presumption against awarding spousal support to an abusive spouse.
The courts will also consider tax consequences for each spouse. Additionally, a number of other factors are considered by California family courts, and a more complete list can be found in the California Family Code 4320.
California law does not provide that alimony can be used as a way to punish a spouse who committed some act of misconduct, including adultery. While some states do allow a bar to alimony because of marital misconduct, California focuses on ensuring the parties have the proper financial resources they need.
Two Kinds of California Spousal Support
California recognizes both temporary and permanent spousal support. The agreement or arrangement you have with your spouse may dictate which one applies. Temporary support remains an obligation up until the date of divorce. Therefore, during the lengthy divorce proceedings, the spouse with the higher income may be required to pay the spouse with the lower income.
As for permanent spousal support, this remains an obligation even after the divorce. Thus, nothing changes on finalizing the divorce; the payer spouse must continue to pay the payee spouse.
Nevertheless, with temporary and permanent spousal support, the payer spouse may seek to modify, or even terminate, this payment obligation if there exists a substantial change of circumstances. For instance, a payer spouse may seek termination or modification of the spousal support order if the payee spouse obtains a new job with higher income, if the payee spouse remarries, or if the payee spouse receives sufficient support through inheritance. Spousal support may also be terminated if the Court orders a termination of the spousal support obligation. Lastly, the spousal support obligation may be terminated on the death of either the payee or the payer spouse.
Avoiding the Court’s Involvement
It may be a surprise to you, but, you do not always need a court’s involvement to receive spousal support. You accomplish this by simple agreement, in writing, with your spouse. Basically, you and your spouse can come to an agreement regarding spousal support. The two of you must then sign a written agreement. California courts call this a “stipulation.” This written agreement does not require you, or your spouse, to appear before a judge in a court of law. It also does not require a judge to make a decision regarding your spousal support.
It is important that your agreement includes the amount and duration of the support. It is also important, and even required, that you and your spouse sign the agreement. Once the two of you sign it, you must present it to a court for the judge to sign. After obtaining the judge’s signature, you must then file the agreement with the clerk of court.