What is spousal support?
Spousal support (sometimes called “alimony”) is money paid from one spouse to the other with the intention of helping the lower earning spouse transition from being married to being single. In California, a spouse can request either temporary or permanent support.
Temporary support is typically awarded to help a lesser earning spouse financially during the divorce process. It usually terminates once the divorce is finalized, or when permanent support is awarded. Permanent support is ordered once the divorce is finalized and continues on for a number of months or years depending on the case.
How long will I receive spousal support for?
Typically, if a marriage was shorter than 10 years, the receiving spouse will receive support for half the length of the marriage. For marriages longer than 10 years, the court will wait to be presented with the facts of case to order spousal support for as long as it deems appropriate, but rarely for less than half the length of the marriage.
How much support will be awarded?
This depends on a variety of factors. We discuss spousal support calculations in more detail here.
Can spousal support amounts be modified?
Yes! In California, alimony may be revised when one spouse can prove that there has been a “material change in circumstance,” which warrants the revision of the support amount.
My spouse had an affair during our marriage, will this affect the amount of support?
No, it will not. California is considered a no-fault jurisdiction. Therefore, the court will not consider the affair, or any of the reasons for why the marriage is ending, when making its decision. However, if your spouse is living with a new partner, there may be a presumption that they do not have as much need for spousal support and therefore should not receive as much.
Do I have to keep paying spousal support if I lose my job?
No. If you lose your job and therefore lose your ability to pay support, this is considered to be a material change in circumstance. This kind of change will allow the court to reconsider the amount of your support payments, and possibly grant a temporary reduction or pause of support. However, you must petition the court for this revised order. If you just stop paying automatically without going back to court first, your spouse may seek legal action against you for violating a court order.
My ex-spouse was just given a big raise. Do I have to keep paying spousal support?
Your ex-spouse’s raise is another example of a material change in circumstance, which could cause the court to reexamine the support payments. While you may have to keep paying support, the amount of that support may decrease.
If I am paying spousal support and get a big raise, can my ex-spouse make me pay more?
Usually not. Typically, the amount of spousal support awarded is limited to the financial circumstances that existed during the marriage, not after or before. So unless the court finds that the original support amount that you were paying was insufficient, you usually will not have to give your ex-spouse more money just because you are making more now.
My ex-spouse refuses to get a job and is forcing me to continue to pay spousal support. Is there anything I can do?
Yes. One option could be to file a motion requesting a vocational examination. In a vocational examination, an expert will assess the likelihood that the supported spouse (the one receiving alimony) can obtain gainful employment, and what his or her earning capacity may be. Based on this evaluation, a judge can then assign income to that spouse when determining support orders. For example, if the other spouse’s potential income can be easily assessed (such as if they hold a nursing license), then the court can also assign a fictional income if you are able to prove that they are purposefully avoiding employment.
My ex-spouse is getting married again. Can I stop paying spousal support?
Yes. Your obligation to pay spousal support automatically terminates upon their remarriage unless you have an agreement stating otherwise. However, if you them owe a lump sum dollar amount or money your spouse is entitled to for the division of assets and property from the marriage, that agreement and those amounts will still be enforced.
How are my taxes affected by spousal support payments?
As of January 1, 2019, spousal support payments in California are no longer tax deductible for the payer, and recipients do not have to include them as a taxable income. For divorces finalized in 2018 or earlier, the spousal support payer may deduct alimony payments on federal and state income tax returns. Likewise, for divorces finalized in 2018 or earlier, spousal support recipients must report the alimony payments they receive as income.