Spousal support is a very hot topic, one that often causes a significant amount of angst, stress, and anger between divorcing couples.

While few payers have difficulty understanding the need to pay child support, many payers find it difficult to understand why they should pay spousal support.

Contrary to popular thinking, men are not the only ones ordered to pay spousal support, women or also ordered to pay, and just like men, they frequently have a hard time understanding why.

This article gives a brief overview of the difference between long term and temporary spousal support in California––what it is, who has to pay, why they have to pay, how much they have to pay, and for how long.

What is Spousal Support?

Spousal support, referred to as alimony in other states, is money that is ordered to be paid by one spouse to the other during the divorce and/or after the divorce.

The purpose of spousal support is to address the financial disparity that often exists between spouses during and after a divorce and to assist the lower income earning spouse until he or she becomes self-sufficient.

Spousal support may be awarded to either spouse, regardless of their gender. Furthermore, if the payee is also the custodial parent of the couple’s children, it is customary for he or she to be awarded spousal support alongside child support.

Temporary vs Permanent Spousal Support

In California, spousal support may be ordered to be paid while a divorce is pending. This is referred to as temporary spousal support and is payable from the date a petition of dissolution is filed until a final judgment of dissolution is acquired.

Spousal support may also be ordered to be paid for an indefinite period of time after a final judgment of dissolution is acquired. This is referred to as permanent spousal support––not in the sense that it will last forever, but that it must be paid for a duration after the divorce and possibly permanently.

Who Has to Pay Spousal Support?

Generally, if there is a significant disparity in income between you and your spouse, the higher income earning spouse will be ordered to pay support to the lower income earning spouse. If your incomes are relatively close, support may not be ordered at all.

Another factor the court takes into consideration is the length of the marriage. Generally, the longer the marriage, the greater the likelihood of support being awarded. The court will typically finds no need to award support after a short-term marriage.

How is Temporary Spousal Support Calculated?

The amount of temporary spousal support ordered to be paid will largely depend on the incomes of both spouses and the payor’s ability to pay.

The state of California has established a universal formula to be used in order to assist the courts in addressing temporary spousal support.

Essentially, the formula plugs the fundamental factors needed to determine temporary spousal support into a spousal support calculator in order to arrive at a specified amount of temporary spousal support that should be paid by the payer spouse.

The court may then make adjustments to the calculated amount of temporary spousal support if it finds the amount to be unjust or inappropriate with regards to other factors.

How is the Amount and Duration of Permanent Spousal Support Determined?

The duration of permanent spousal support will largely depend on the length of the marriage. As a rule of thumb, the longer the marriage, the longer the duration of spousal support after the divorce.

For a short term marriage, that is a marriage of duration of 10 years or less, the duration of permanent spousal support will typically be one-half of the duration of the marriage. In other words, if the marriage lasted for a duration of 8 years, the duration of permanent spousal support will be 4 years.

For long-term marriages––a marriage of 10 years or longer, the rule related to the duration of permanent spousal support is much more complicated. California Family Code Section 4320 lists 14 different factors that the court must take into consideration when determining the amount and duration of permanent spousal support. Included in these factors are:

  • The age of the parties
  • The health of the parties
  • The relative needs of the payee
  • The marketable skills of the payee
  • The extent to which the payee’s earning capacity has been impaired due to periods of unemployment while taking care of the family
  • The payer’s ability to pay

In addition, the court may also take into consideration any other factors that it deems just and equitable in determining the amount and duration of permanent spousal support.

Because of this, permanent spousal support is a very complicated matter in family law. You are therefore encouraged to consult with an experienced California family law attorney who can help you sort through all of the different issues that may arise when determining permanent spousal support in California.

Contact an Experienced California Family Law Attorney.

It’s important to keep in mind that every case is different and that you should consult an experienced California family law attorney for more detailed information regarding your spousal support matter. Let attorney Anna Y. Maples of the Family Advocacy Center help you estimate the amount and the length of time you can expect to pay and/or receive spousal support for your particular family law case.