What Factors Do Los Angeles Family Law Courts Use to Determine Alimony?
Alimony – or “spousal support” – is often a key issue in divorce proceedings. Many people's idea of alimony is stuck in the 18th century, believing that alimony is a payment from a husband, to a wife, for life.
The times have changed, marriage has changed, and the laws have too. In California, spousal support payments are meant to maintain each party's standard of living for a limited duration until both parties have employment or resources which meet their needs. Only about 15% of California divorces involve spousal support.
California Family Code 4320
California Family Code 4320 incorporates several important factors that govern how much alimony will be awarded and for how long:
- The extent to which each spouse's earning potential will allow them to maintain their marital standard of living;
- The extent to which the supported spouse contributed to the supporting spouse's attainment of education, training, professional licensure, or career advancement;
- The supporting spouse's ability to pay;
- Each spouse's needs, assets, and obligations;
- The marriage's duration;
- Each spouse's age and health; and
- The immediate and specific tax consequences for each spouse.
The courts consider these elemental factors in a kind of balancing act that weighs each against the other in determining alimony in the unique cases they face.
How long does alimony last?
The general rule is that for marriages which lasted less than ten years, the duration of alimony will be half the duration of the marriage. For marriages which lasted ten years or more, the court will not set a duration.
This does not mean the duration is lifetime – however, it does mean that the burden will be on the spouse paying the alimony to request a modification as circumstances change over time. True lifetime alimony is generally only granted to spouses who lack the ability to ever become self-supporting.
It should be noted that alimony payments are not designed to last indefinitely. The judge could issue a Gavron warning, which gives you notice you must make an effort to become financially independent. If entitled, you may be able to get spousal support while the divorce is pending.
Who pays alimony? How much do they pay?
In California, courts have wide discretion when considering spousal support awards. California law lists a number of factors for courts to consider, including:
- The earning capacity and assets of each party;
- The skills of each party, and the market for those skills;
- Time each spouse dedicated to the marriage or “domestic duties” instead of a career;
- Age and health;
- Ability to pay;
- Child care obligations;
- A history of domestic violence or criminality.
The fundamental purpose of California alimony laws is to attempt to maintain the couple's status quo, which refers to the couple's standard of living or marital lifestyle. See related: Palimony laws in California. It should be noted California does not allow a common law marriage.
California courts do have broad discretion when it comes to determining alimony, and they generally consider the last five years of a long-term marriage to be indicative of the couple's marital lifestyle.
Judges, nevertheless, can look back as far as they find appropriate. In determination of this time frame, the court will carefully consider how consistent that lifestyle was throughout the marriage.
If, for example, a couple lived in the same house for 20 years and maintained a placid lifestyle throughout, pinpointing their marital lifestyle is a clear-cut process. If, on the other hand, a couple frequently upgraded their homes, vehicles, and vacation destinations, the judge will take that into consideration when determining how far back to look in ascertaining their marital lifestyle.
What is temporary alimony?
Temporary alimony is alimony granted during the time the divorce is pending, presuming the parties have already begun to disentangle themselves financially. While alimony, in general, is a matter of state law in California, temporary alimony is determined on a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction basis.
Los Angeles follows Santa Clara County's rule, which is 40% of the net income of the payor, minus 50% of the net income of the payee, subtracting out any child support (which is its own amount and follows very strict guidelines) and adjusting for tax consequences. It's important to understand the difference between temporary and permanent spousal support. A spousal support lawyer in Los Angeles might be able to help you receive your temporary or permanent alimony sooner.
Contact a Qualified Los Angeles Divorce and Family Law Attorney Today
Divorce can be an emotionally draining process, not to mention a complex one. Hiring an experienced Los Angeles family law attorney can greatly increase your peace of mind about the process. Furman & Zavatsky LLP has the experienced attorneys you need to assist you with a case under which spousal support is an issue.
We can help you determine whether settlement or litigation is the best choice for you, as well as how spousal support is likely to be viewed by the court. Contact our law firm today for a free, no risk consultation at 818-528-3471. Serving the greater Los Angeles area.