How Does Spousal Support Work In California?
Spousal support, also known as alimony, is a financial allowance that the court orders one spouse to pay to the other in order to maintain an accustomed lifestyle for a certain period of time after a divorce. In general, the spouse with a higher income is ordered to financially assist the spouse who has a lower or no income. Additionally, temporary support, or “pendente lite”, may be ordered to support the lower earner during the divorce proceedings. Spousal support is an important factor of divorce settlements and should be thoroughly understood by both spouses.
How long do spousal support orders last?In California, the duration of a spousal support order is usually tied to the length of the marriage. In most cases, a marriage of less than 10 years will result in a spousal support order that lasts half the length of the marriage. For marriages lasting more than 10 years, a definite time period won't be set, but both spouses have the right to request a modification. It is very unlikely that a court in California will order true permanent support, as the supported spouse is expected to make efforts to become self-sufficient. Permanent support is usually reserved for cases that involve a spouse who cannot work due to age or disability. A support-seeking spouse who claims they cannot work will have to prove their inability with evidentiary support.
How is the amount of spousal support calculated?The purpose of spousal support is to temporarily maintain a financial lifestyle of the support-requesting spouse. In California, the courts usually use a formula that differs among county jurisdictions to determine how much should be paid in spousal support. However, the court may order an amount other than the formula calculates when each spouse's earning capacity is taken into consideration. The court evaluates many factors when determining spousal support, such as the supported spouse's skills, education and training; the job market; the ability of the supporting spouse to pay; each spouse's debts and assets; and any documented history of domestic violence.
Is the spousal support order permanent?In the event of a change in circumstances, either spouse can request a modification or termination of spousal support. The exception is in the case of a written agreement in which both parties agreed to not seek changes in spousal support. Other circumstances where a modification may be warranted include the supported spouse residing with a new partner, career changes, and significant financial losses. Termination of spousal support occurs if either spouse dies or the supported spouse gets remarried.
Are spousal support payments taxable?While the court calculates spousal support in the event of litigation, the couple can come to an agreement of their own during mediation. During mediation, a couple can also agree to structure payments so that tax requirements are ideal for both parties. In general, the paying spouse is eligible to a deductible and the receiving spouse is obligated to pay tax on the amount received. Spousal support can also be paid out in one lump sum, in some circumstances. Such scenarios usually do not come with any tax consequences.