Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Spousal Support (But Were Afraid to Ask)

What is spousal support?

Also known as alimony, spousal support is financial assistance that recognizes a partner’s contribution to the marriage and helps the recipient achieve financial independence. It can be temporary or permanent.

Spousal support is legally established by asking a judge to make an order as part of a divorce, legal separation, annulment or domestic violence restraining order court case.

Who is eligible for spousal support?

In California, spousal support is available to legally married couples, and those involved in domestic partnerships.

Generally, the higher wage earner must provide for the additional financial support of his or her former spouse.

How is spousal support calculated?

There is a great deal of discretion in setting a spousal support amount. The California Courts website identifies these factors as considerations when determining the amount of spousal support to award:

  • The length of the marriage/domestic partnership
  • What each person needs based on the standard of living they had during the marriage
  • What each person pays or can pay (including earnings and earning capacity) to maintain the standard of living they had during the marriage
  • Whether having a job would make it too difficult to care for the children
  • Age and health of each person
  • Debts and property
  • Whether one spouse assisted the other in getting an education, training, career or professional license
  • Whether domestic violence existed in the marriage
  • Whether one spouse’s career was affected by unemployment or by taking care of the children or home
  • The tax impact of spousal support (note: federal and state tax laws have not been changed to recognize domestic partnerships)

How long can I receive spousal support?

For divorce cases involving a marriage that lasted for less than 10 years, a judge typically will require the spouse to pay spousal support for a length of time equivalent to half the length of the marriage.

The court does not set an end date on spousal support in divorce cases where the couple was married 10 or more years. Instead, the spouse who is required to pay support must prove that spousal support will no longer be necessary at some point.

I’m not getting enough spousal support. What are my options?

Orders to pay spousal support specify an amount, in addition to a timeframe that the ex spouse is required to pay it. Changes to this aren’t easy, but they are possible with the assistance of an attorney who specializes in family law.

A spouse who wants to modify a support agreement must be able to demonstrate that there has been a change in circumstances since the support order was made. The court will look at the ability to pay, as well as the recipient’s needs.

Examples of circumstances that could warrant a spousal support modification or termination include loss of a job, one spouse becoming disabled and unable to work any longer,

An attempt to change your spousal support agreement requires a formal request to modify it.

There also are occasions when spousal support can be terminated, such as when the recipient remarries. Support automatically terminates in this case in many states.

What should I do if my ex spouse stops paying spousal support?

In California, if your ex-spouse falls behind in paying support and doesn’t already have their wages withheld to pay support, you can ask the court to issue an earnings assignment for you to serve on the other person’s employer to withhold support from wages, according to the California Courts site.

You can find more information on what to do in the event your spouse stops paying support here.

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We hope this information has been helpful to you. Please call our office to schedule a consultation if you have questions about your spousal support, or believe you may need to have it modified or terminated. We are happy to discuss your options with you.