Unlike most states, California allows not only spousal support in the case of a divorcing married couple, but also domestic partner support for long-time partners who never married. In either case, though, there are certain requirements. It's important to keep in mind that spousal support is synonymous with the word “alimony.”
A long-term marriage of 10 years or more or short one, middle class income or wealthy, California alimony laws will impact each spouse's decisions on how they will handle their divorce case. It's length, complexity, settlements, and in contested divorce cases, it will typically become the most complicated aspect of a California divorce trial.
Spousal support frequently becomes a hotly contested issue. A spouse who has high earnings doesn't want to pay it. A lower earning spouse, such as a stay-at-home mother, demands they receive it. In California divorce litigation, family law courts will seek to maintain the marital standard of living in order to determine amount of spousal support.
Unless both spouses are able to reach a reasonable compromise on their own, the critical issue of exactly how much spousal support should be paid, and for how long, often results in an expensive court battle in a Los Angeles family law courtroom. California alimony law specifically states in a pending divorce or legal separation case, the Family Court has the authority to order either spouse to pay support to the other.
It should be noted that spousal support 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.
The amount of the spousal support is amount necessary for the support of the other spouse. California alimony laws allow temporary support before a final judgment. This means the court can order temporary alimony based on a spouse's need and the other spouse's ability to pay. For a divorcing spouse or a domestic partner to even begin to establish a claim for support, there must be a court case initiated. Once that occurs, a spouse or domestic partner can seek a support order, but only under certain circumstances, including:
- A divorce, legal separation or annulment; or
- A domestic violence restraining order
It is possible to obtain spousal or partner support while the case is ongoing. This requires a “temporary spousal support order” from the court, or a “temporary partner support order,” depending upon the circumstances. Such an order can be made final upon the conclusion of the divorce or separation case. Upon final judgment, the order becomes a permanent (or long-term) order of spousal or partner support. If you are seeking spousal support, contact a Los Angeles divorce attorney at Furman & Zavatsky LLP to review your case and legal options moving forward.
How is Spousal Support Calculated?
Spousal support in California is governed under California Code, Family Code Section 4320 et seq. For temporary support, judges in local courts in general use a formula to calculate the amount of support to pay. Local court rules will provide information on how your court will calculate temporary support. It's important to understand the the difference between temporary and permanent spousal support.
However, there is no formula for calculating final support amounts. Spousal or partner support provided in final orders at the end of a case will be determined using the factors provided under California Family Code Section 4320. Those factors include:
- The length of the marriage or domestic partnership;
- What each person needs based on the standard of living they had during the marriage or domestic partnership;
- What each person pays or can pay (including earnings and earning capacity) to keep the standard of living they had during the marriage or domestic partnership;
- Whether having a job would make it too hard to take care of the children;
- The age and health of both people;
- Debts and property;
- Whether 1 spouse or domestic partner helped the other get an education, training, career, or professional license;
- Whether one of the spouse's, or domestic partner's, career was affected by unemployment or by staying home to take care of the children or home; and
- The tax impact of spousal support; Federal and state tax laws do not recognize domestic partnerships, so this factor lies largely within the discretion of the court.
Once the court considers these factors and arrives at an amount, the spousal or partner support order becomes part of the final divorce or legal separation judgment. However, a “change in circumstances” can affect whether the original order continues in effect or is subject to change.
Should the recipient of alimony remarry or die, of course, those payments cease. It is not entirely clear what happens when a recipient of partner support enters into a new partnership. Because such relationships are considerably less formal than marriage, it can be quite difficult to ascertain whether a new “partnership” has begun. Nonetheless, a former spouse or domestic partner can request that payment amounts change.
Usually, this is done by the party making the payments, such as if the receiving former spouse no longer needs the payments or is not making a good faith effort to be self-supporting, or if the paying spouse has suffered a decline in income. See related: Palimony laws in California. Call at a Los Angeles divorce and family law attorney at our law firm for more detailed information.
Is My Spousal Support Order Enforceable?
The answer to this question is, unfortunately, “yes, but.” Alimony, or spousal or partner support, is much more difficult to enforce than, for instance, child support payments. In the case of child support, failure to pay can be countered by wage garnishment, liens against the property and other court-ordered enforcement measures that are relatively easy to obtain after a child-support order has been entered.
In the case of spousal or partner support, however, enforcement requires that the former spouse or partner entitled to support payments file a case against the payer spouse for contempt of court. In essence, the case is to enforce the court's original support order, contending that non-payment is contempt or a defiance of the court's authority. Unfortunately, this requires an additional court proceeding and the accompanying expense.
Contact a Los Angeles Divorce Attorney
If you and your spouse are getting divorced in the Los Angeles area and your case involves pension benefits as potential community property, it's important to work with a legal professional who can fight for your rights to equitable compensation. Contact the Los Angeles divorce law firm of Furman & Zavatsky LLP. Our divorce lawyers can help you navigate the divorce process and we will make sure you are fairly represented. We offer a free case evaluation. Contact us at (818) 528-3471.
Furman & Zavatsky LLP
15821 Ventura Blvd #690
Encino, CA 91436