When couples decide to get divorced in California, one spouse could be ordered by the family law court to make spousal support payments to the other based on different circumstances. It should be noted that “spousal support” and “alimony” are the same thing in California.
Alimony payments are typically necessary in a situation where one spouse in the marriage makes most of the family income.
Spousal support payments are always unique in every marriage and are based on a wide range of factors, including current incomes, future earning capacity, assets, debts, and level of education.
California family law courts will determine how long one spouse is expected to pay alimony through specific guidelines that are designed to reach a fair financial solution.
Typically, spousal support is:
- Awarded based on the length of the marriage and the general rule is that it will last for half the length of the marriage that was legally valid for ten years or less.
Alimony awards for long-term marriages, those longer than 10-years, will be different and might even be awarded for an indefinite term. As you can see, there are many factors to consider and there is not a single default correct answer.
To give readers a better understanding on how California family law courts determine the amount of time a spouse needs to pay spousal support, our Los Angeles divorce and family law lawyers are providing a review below.
Understanding Spousal Support Terms in California
It's important to note that spouses can reach a mutual agreement on alimony as part of the divorce process, including how much and how long.
If you have a basic understanding of spousal support terminology in family law courts, it could help you reach an agreement with your spouse. Let's review the key terms:
- Alimony in just another word for spousal support used the California tax code. Its payments made to the higher-earning spouse to the other spouse to maintain their standard of living and eventually becoming self-sufficient after the divorce is final.
- Temporary spousal support, as the name implies, is a temporary arrangement when spouses are attempting to negotiate terms on a long-term solution to alimony. California family law courts use set guidelines on how the amount of support is calculated.
- Long-term spousal support is more complicated because family law courts in California recognize that circumstances will sometimes change, such as one the spouse receiving support gets remarried or obtains a better paying job.
It should be noted that you might not ever be ordered to pay temporary spousal support. Also, if the spouse who was ordered to pay alimony loses their job and can no longer make payments, it could be sufficient grounds to have the support order changed.
Factors that Determine Length of Spousal Support in California
Spousal support payments in California can become a complicated issue, but it's generally determined by a wide range of different factors that have been set by the family law court system. Some of main factors used to make a determination on spousal support arrangements include:
- Marriages less than 10 years – spousal support is normally paid for one-half the length of the marriage. This means the spouse with the higher income in a marriage that lasted 10 years will typically be expected to pay alimony for 5 years.
- Marriages longer than 10 years – spousal support payments could last much longer if the lower earning spouse is not financially able to maintain their martial standard of living based on just their income.
In spite of the length of your marriage, spousal support orders in California are never considered set in stone indefinitely. Rather, alimony can be modified by a family law court depending on the financial ability or the spouse paying alimony or even the spouse who is receiving payments.
A change in circumstances for the spouse who is paying alimony includes a change in the amount of their income or an increase in their expenses.
Death of spouse or remarriage
Any spousal support obligations ordered by the court will end when one spouse dies or the spouse receiving spousal support gets remarried.
It should be noted there are other options for couples getting a divorce for spousal support arrangements. This includes making an agreement for a lump-sum payment to essentially buy your way out of a spousal support obligation.
Marital Change of Circumstances Impacting Alimony
It's important to review material change of circumstances that can impact how long a spouse can pay alimony after a divorce.
A common factor to modify spousal support is a material change of circumstances that impacts the paying spouse's ability to pay, which is always a significant factor in any California alimony order.
Common material change of circumstances impacting a spouse's ability to pay include:
- A reduction in the income of spouse paying spousal support
- An unexpected increase in expenses of spouse paying spousal support
- Retirement after reaching retirement age
These factors could be sufficient grounds for a downward modification or termination of alimony.
Likewise, a marital change in circumstance can also impact the spouse who is receiving alimony. Common examples that can change the alimony for the spouse receiving support include:
- Spouse receiving support has an increase in income
- Spouse receiving support has reduced living expenses
- Spouse receiving spousal support cohabitates with another person
- Spouse receives inheritance that eliminates the need for alimony
On a similar note, we are often asked about what impact does the failure to make reasonable efforts to become self-sufficient have on how long a spouse has to pay alimony after a divorce? Let's review below.
This is where the topic of Gavron warning in California can come into play. A spouse who receives alimony who was given an admonition by the family court judge to become self-supporting is at risk of being cut off from payments if they fail make reasonable efforts to become self-supporting.
In this type of situation, the court can reduce spousal support or eliminate it altogether.
Contact a Los Angeles Family Law Lawyer for Help
Our review above has shown that California spousal support arrangements can get complex and always depends on many different factors.
As you can see, alimony can be modified at any time by mutual agreement of the spouses parties or they take the issue to a family law court for litigation where the circumstances could impact spousal support payments.
If you want information on how long you have to pay spousal support in California, contact our office to review details of your situation.
Furman & Zavatsky are Los Angeles divorce and family law attorneys that have a record of success. We represent clients throughout Southern California, including LA County, Ventura County, and Simi Valley, California.
We are located in the San Fernando Valley area of LA County at 15821 Ventura Blvd #690 Encino, CA 91436. Contact us for a free case consultation at (818) 528-3471.