Domestic violence in a marriage often plays a significant role in why a couple gets divorced. In many cases, the abusive spouse was arrested and a restraining order was issued against them that prohibited contact with their victim spouse. A common question our family lawyers receive in the category of a California divorce is whether domestic violence will have an impact on a spousal support award, which is also known as “alimony.”
Under California Family Code 4320, the family law court has to consider any documented evidence of domestic violence when determining a spousal support award, which includes physical harm and emotional distress.
California is a no-fault divorce state, which means a spouse doesn't have to prove the other spouse did anything wrong to file for a dissolution of marriage. For instance, they do not have to prove the other spouse was abusive to get divorced. Rather, a spouse will normally cite a reason such as irreconcilable differences on the divorce petition.
No-fault also means a California family law court will not consider who was at fault when making decisions on the stipulations of a divorce. For example, the court will divide marital property equally regardless of why a couple is divorcing. It won't matter if:
- a spouse had an affair,
- spouse became a drug addict or alcoholic,
- spouse had a history of abuse or domestic violence.
However, there is a major exception, which is how the judge will determine spousal support. If there is proof of domestic violence during the marriage in California, it can significantly impact a spousal support order.
In other words, even though California is a no-fault divorce state, family courts will take into consideration any domestic violence when awarding alimony. Our Los Angeles divorce and family law lawyers will take a closer look below.
How Does a Family Court Determine Spousal Support Payments?
There are some basic facts you need to understand about how domestic violence can impact spousal support, known as alimony, in a California divorce case. For example, you need to first know how California family courts calculate an alimony award.
Spousal support is primarily designed to provide the spouse with lesser financial means some assistance so they can maintain a similar quality of life they enjoyed while they were married. The family court judge could award alimony if there is a disparity between:
- spouse's incomes,
- education, and
- employment experience.
This is especially true if the disparity was caused by a spouse giving up on a career or advanced education to stay at home to raise their children during the marriage.
Factors considered for alimony award
As stated, under California Family Code 4320, when a family court is determining a spousal support agreement, they are required to consider numerous different factors, including:
- length of the marriage,
- age and health of both spouses,
- marketable skills,
- present earning capacity,
- potential future earning capacity,
- contributions a spouse made to the other,
- needs and assets of each spouse.
The court will always examine whether a spouse has the financial ability to support the other.
Connection Between Domestic Violence and Alimony in California
California Family Code Section 4320(i) specifically addresses the connection between domestic violence and spousal support. This statute lists the factors that are to be considered in ordering support and states:
- “(i) All documented evidence of any history of domestic violence, as defined in Section 6211, between the spouses or perpetrated by either spouse against their child.”
This means California law requires a family court to consider documented evidence of domestic violence when deciding on spousal support. Under subsection (i), documented evidence can include the following:
- a plea of nolo contendere,
- emotional distress, abuse, and threats,
- physical harm,
- issuance of a protective order after a hearing under Section 6340,
- finding by the court during divorce or child custody proceeding that a spouse committed domestic violence.
It should be noted that a California family court will not order a spouse to provide alimony to a spouse who was a domestic abuser.
Documented evidence of domestic violence
As stated, California family courts must consider documented evidence of domestic violence when making alimony decisions. Documentation of domestic violence includes criminal convictions along with several other methods, such as police records.
If a spouse has a domestic violence conviction within five years before the divorce, then the family court will presume they shouldn't receive spousal support. This presumption is often challenged by the convicted spouse who will show proof both parties committed domestic violence against each other.
It should be noted, however, a spouse who has been convicted of a domestic violence-related crime will not normally be awarded spousal support by the court.
False allegations of domestic violence
There are cases where a spouse will attempt to take an unfair advantage in a divorce case. They will falsely accuse their spouse of committing domestic violence against them. In extreme cases, some spouses will aggressively pursue an attempt to get their spouse arrested and charged with a domestic abuse crime.
They will even pursue a protective order and attempt to obtain full custody of their children. In other cases, a spouse is angry about getting divorced and is seeking revenge to damage their spouse's reputation. The false allegations are often used as a tool to avoid paying alimony.
Senate Bill 1129 Impact on California Divorce Laws
Senate Bill 1129 which was signed in September 2018 by Governor Brown applies to California divorce proceedings and impacts the divorce laws by:
- prohibiting spousal support to a spouse who was convicted of violent domestic violence or sexually related felony when the crime was committed against their spouse, and
- placing limits on the availability of spousal support to a spouse who was convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence related crime when it was committed against the other spouse; and
- places restrictions on a convicted spouse to receive lawyer fees in a divorce case.
SB 1129 is a change in the law that is more severe on a spouse convicted of domestic violence and sex offenses against their spouses.
Supporters of the new law believe it helps reduce the number of domestic violence and violent sexual felonies cases. This new law was designed to protect spouses and children from abusive parents. Senate Bill 1129 is an amendment to California Family Code Sections 4324.5 and 4325.
Family Law Lawyers for California Spousal Support Cases
Spousal support awards in a California divorce can become a difficult issue to resolve, especially if there are allegations of domestic violence. If you are seeking a divorce and alimony needs to be resolved, you will need to retain a divorce attorney experienced in spousal support awards involving domestic violence.
Since domestic violence can significantly impact an alimony award, you will need an attorney on your side to have the best chance at a favorable outcome. California criminal and family laws are designed to protect victims of domestic violence, but false accusations are far too common.
You will need protection of your legal rights to receive alimony, or against having to pay unwarranted alimony.
The Los Angeles divorce and family law attorneys at Furman & Zavatsky provide experienced legal representation for people throughout Southern California from our office in LA County. Call our firm for a free case evaluation at (818) 528-3471, or fill out our contact form.