How Does Alimony Work In California?

If you are planning to get a divorce in California, you’ve probably heard a lot of rumors about alimony. Some people think alimony is old-fashioned and no one pays it anymore. Other people think courts automatically award it if a marriage has lasted a certain period of time. Both of these general assumptions are false—alimony is determined according to the specific facts pertaining to the marriage. That means it is important to ensure that your divorce attorney presents the right facts to justify your goals for alimony.

While we cannot give you cut and dried rules about how alimony is determined, we can explain how decisions are made in California.

A Prenuptial or Postnuptial Agreement Can Determine Everything

California laws establish some expectations and factors for courts to consider when making decisions about whether to award alimony and how much to award, but the default provisions of the law only come into play when the couple has not created their own binding agreement regarding alimony. If you and your spouse executed a prenuptial agreement before you got married or you entered into a valid agreement during your marriage, the terms in that agreement will control the outcome. 

These agreements must meet certain legal requirements to be valid, so if you did not consult an attorney before signing and you think the agreement might not be valid, it is a good idea to discuss this with your divorce attorney as soon as possible. Among other requirements, you must either have received and provided full disclosure about financial issues before signing, or you must have specifically waived the disclosure requirement.

Couples Can Make Their Own Decisions About Alimony

If you did not prepare a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement, you and your soon-to-be former spouse still have the ability to make your own determinations about alimony. The difficulty is that you need to reach agreement on whether one spouse will pay, how much they will pay, and how long payments will be expected to continue. Your attorney may be able to negotiate a reasonable arrangement with your spouse’s attorney. When that happens, the court is likely to approve whatever terms you have established, unless one party has acted improperly in some way. Of course, before you start negotiating your own terms, you would probably find it helpful to know what the law considers relevant to the decision.

California Law Refers to Alimony as Spousal Support

To understand the provisions of California law regarding alimony, you need to know that the courts use the term “spousal support” and they can award two main types of support. Courts often order temporary spousal support to help a spouse while the divorce proceedings are in progress. In some counties, courts do use a formula to establish an amount, but that can be adjusted.

Alimony payments that are made after the divorce is finalized are considered long-term spousal support. In a divorce decree, the court can go one of three ways with regard to alimony. The court can order support, it can deny support now but retain the right to order support later, or the court can terminate the issue and end its ability to order alimony.

Factors That Affect Alimony Decisions

Support is designed to give a spouse who earns less money a reasonable amount of time to become self-supporting. The longer a couple has been married, the more likely it is that one spouse has stayed out of the workforce to focus on home for a longer period of time, so that spouse will need more time to redevelop their earning potential. For that reason the length of a marriage is one of the key factors affecting alimony determinations. 

If a spouse demonstrates that they have a need for support and the other spouse has the ability to pay support, then if they were married for less than ten years, California law assumes that it would be reasonable to order alimony payments to continue for half the length of the marriage. If the marriage lasted more than ten years, it is considered a long-term marriage, and there is no assumption about how long alimony should continue.

In addition to considering a how long a couple has been married and the receiving spouse’s need and paying spouse’s ability to make payments, courts are also supposed to consider:

  • The age and health of each spouse
  • Current income and potential earning capacity of each spouse
  • The standard of living during the marriage
  • Property and debts of each spouse
  • Any history of abuse
  • Whether one spouse helped the other further their training or education
  • The impact of childcare on both spouse’s careers

When a court orders alimony payments, those payments are expected to continue until the date specified in the order or agreement, or until one spouse dies or the receiving spouse remarries. If a receiving spouse is living with a new partner, the paying spouse can ask the court to modify or terminate alimony.

Holstrom, Block & Parke APLC Can Help You Secure the Right Alimony Arrangements

If you are interested in seeking alimony or you believe your spouse will request alimony, it is a good idea to begin working with an experienced divorce lawyer as soon as possible to start gathering evidence to help you achieve the right balance in the decision. At Holstrom, Block & Parke, APLC, our Certified Family Law Specialists and associates understand the most effective strategies to protect your interests in all types of divorce situations. To learn more about the protection we can provide, schedule a consultation with our team today. 

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