Spousal Support (Formerly called “alimony”) is a recurrent payment from one spouse to another after a divorce, intended to prevent one spouse from suffering a decreased standard of living or becoming impoverished or disadvantaged as a result of the divorce. An identical issue exists with dissolutions of domestic partnerships, referred to as partner support. In either case, the goal is to allow both parties to maintain the same standard of living they had before the divorce. As such, spousal support is a completely financial issue: it is not a form of punishment or vengeance, nor is it a moral issue. California is, in fact, a “no-fault” state, meaning that “marital misconduct” (such as infidelity or the presence of restraining orders) is legally prohibited from becoming a factor in spousal support decisions.
Spousal support is not guaranteed as part of a divorce. The divorcees must either agree to a spousal support arrangement during the divorce, or the party seeking support must file a separate motion requesting spousal support. At that point, it must be proven to the court that monetary support is necessary to prevent a substantial decrease in standard of living, usually by establishing that they were partially or completely financially dependent on their spouse. Likewise, Spousal support is also a separate matter from child support, and would be handled as such.
Should it be established that spousal support is necessary, California grants two separate forms of spousal support, differentiated by their length of time:
- Temporary Spousal Support is granted in situations where the requesting party needs monetary support before a permanent arrangement has been made and terminates once a long-term agreement is decided upon.
- Permanent Spousal Support is indefinite and more firmly defined, with the court using a number of factors to determine the monthly payment from the supporter to the supported party. The amount paid can be modified if circumstances change. In some cases, it can be cancelled entirely.
- The court has a huge amount of discretion in regards to how long a spousal support arrangement may last and the amount paid by the supporting party. They will use a number of factors to reach an equitable conclusion, including:
- The length of the marriage
- The physical and mental health of either party
- The “employability” of the party seeking support
- The relative earnings of either spouse, especially in regards to whether they could maintain the same standard of living without financial assistance from the other
- Whether the supporting party contributing to the education or career advancement of the supported party and, if so, the extent to which they did
- The ability of the supporting party to pay support, taking into account various financial factors including debts and mortgages
- Criminal convictions on either side
- A history of domestic abuse on either side
- Whether the presence or lack of a support arrangement could affect any children involved in the dispute
- The financial situation of both parties, including debts
These are not, by any means, the only factors the court will consider. In fact, they may take into account anything they deem “just and equitable.
As complicated as spousal support is, it should never be tackled without the assistance of a skilled lawyer, even if you and your partner start out in agreement. Like child custody and child support disputes, disagreement on spousal support can manifest quickly and spiral out of control even faster. Even when this doesn’t happen, the myriad complexities of the issue can leave even an amicable couple confused or troubled. Finding a lawyer is always your best bet.
At the Law Offices of Glenn R. Wilson (FamilyLawFresno.com) we are experienced in handling Spousal Support matters and can provide aggressive legal assistance with your case.
By Connor Douglas Johnson