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Should spousal support be a part of your California divorce?

Couples divorcing in California may need to decide if spousal support (better known as "alimony") will be a part of their divorce settlement.

If a married couple has, between them, a clear imbalance of income, one spouse would likely end up after a divorce having to dramatically alter his or her life. To prevent that from happening, there exists spousal support.

What is spousal (or partner) support?

Simply put, spousal support (sometimes called "alimony," or "partner support" for couples dissolving a domestic partnership), is a payment from one spouse to the other that allows the lesser-earning spouse to maintain approximately the lifestyle to which he or she grew accustomed during the marriage/partnership. There are several different types of alimony, and it can serve various purposes, depending on the unique circumstances of the couple involved.

Types of alimony

Some alimony payments are designed to give the lesser-earning spouse the ability to gain marketable job skills, education or training to be able to find work. This is common when one spouse stayed at home to raise the family and run the household while the other one worked outside the home. Judges and legislators alike understand that someone who was out of the workforce for years will likely need time to get a job and start earning enough money to be self-sufficient, so these temporary, rehabilitative payments are meant to bridge the gap.

Sometimes, if a couple has been married for long enough (typically a long-term marriage of more than 10 years), or one spouse has a valid reason for being unable to support him or herself, a judge might not assign an end date to the spousal support. This is usually referred to as "permanent alimony," and may last until the paying spouse dies or the spouse receiving payments remarries.

Deciding to award spousal support

If a couple cannot decide upon a spousal support payment schedule and amount, then it is usually up to a family court judge to make the determination. Judges use a number of factors when deciding if an alimony award is appropriate. These factors are provided in California law, specifically Section 4320 of the California Family Code. They include:

  • Duration of the marriage
  • Earning capacity of both parties (including their marketable job skills and the likelihood of finding work in their particular field)
  • Assets and debts of each party
  • Extent to which one spouse supported the other's career or educational goals (to the detriment of his or her own)
  • Standard of living during the marriage
  • Age and health of the parties
  • Domestic violence or abuse
  • Care and living arrangements of any children
  • Tax consequences of spousal support payments

Because each couple's divorce is unique, it can be difficult not only to determine if spousal support is appropriate, but also how much should be paid. If you have questions about how alimony could fit into your California divorce (or the dissolution of your registered domestic partnership), speak with an experienced family law attorney today.

Keywords: divorce, alimony, spousal support, permanent alimony, temporary alimony, rehabilitative alimony

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