Is There a Difference Between Alimony and Child Support?

Is There a Difference Between Alimony and Child Support?


Individuals face a laundry list of issues and questions when they are going through a divorce, and it can be challenging to find a reasonable answer to simple questions. Couples that were once very much in love may be consumed with bitterness and anger when their marriage fails. Details such as spousal support, alimony, property division, child support, and child custody often drive a wedge even further between them. Most couples find that the most difficult challenges they face when going through divorce are spousal support and alimony. These controversial determinations are among the most common to go to court for a ruling by a judge.

What Exactly is the Difference Between These Two Terms?

The truth is that there is no difference between these two terms that often confound individuals facing a divorce. Spousal support and alimony are the same things. The word alimony is becoming outdated, as it typically indicates that the ex-wife or ex-husband can maintain the lifestyle of their divorced spouse for a certain period after the marriage has ended. Although spousal support essentially means the same thing, it is more contemporary, as it is a gender-neutral phrase. The definition of spousal support does not mention husband or wife. Instead, it expresses the concept of a support payment from one party to the other for a specified time after the marriage has ended. This is the term that is most often used during divorce proceedings in California courts.

How Is Spousal Support Defined?

The simplest way to describe spousal support is that the spouse who earns more will be required to give the party who earns less monetary payments during the divorce and after it is finalized in most cases. There are specifics of spousal support unique to every state, so it is typically up to a judge to make a ruling on the amount and duration of the payments that the higher-earning spouse must pay.

There are three common types of spousal support in most states that an individual going through a divorce may request and be awarded. These types are defined as:

  • Temporary spousal support. The type of support is a payment made regularly by one ex-spouse to the other when the divorce proceedings are in progress. This type of spousal support ends when a divorce is finalized, and the judge grants permanent support if that is the court’s decision.
  • Permanent or long-term spousal support. When a divorce is finalized, the judge will decide whether the higher-earning spouse will pay to the lower-earning spouse. This payment is to help the individual maintain a comparable lifestyle to the financial standard of living that the couple established while they were married. This is typically a long-term arrangement, but it is not always forever. The judge who makes the decision may limit the length of time that the support must be paid. The spousal support will automatically stop if either of the ex-spouses passes away or if the lower-earning ex-spouse marries someone else.
  • Rehabilitative alimony. This type of support is typically granted when one of the parties significantly lowered or stopped the amount of time they worked while they were married. This is often the case in marriages involving children, when one of the parents stops working or reduces work hours to be the primary caregiver to the children. This support is based on the premise that the spouse will find work again and not need to depend on their ex to pay for all of their living expenses after the divorce is final. This support aims primarily to help the individual transition into the next chapter of their life and give them a reasonable amount of time to acquire substantial work.


How Does the State of California Define Spousal Support?

As mentioned earlier, each state has its own unique laws governing spousal support, but California recognizes all three of the types discussed; rehabilitative, permanent, and temporary spousal support. In the beginning stages of a divorce, a judge will typically use a standard calculation to determine the amount to be paid for temporary support during the divorce. These calculations are made locally by the court system and vary by county.

However, when it comes to permanent spousal support, it is very rare for a judge to use a standard calculation. In permanent support, the judge will usually turn to California Code Section 4320 and rely on the factors noted therein. Some of these are:

  • Whether the dynamic of the marriage included any incidents of domestic violence.
  • The possibility that one parent sacrificed time or money to help the other advance their career or education.
  • Shared and separate debts and property.
  • A circumstance in which both parties decided for one of the parents to stay at home and stop working.
  • The possibility that the caregiving parent getting a job would be detrimental to the child.
  • What each individual contributes to the child or children.
  • The income that each party earns at their job if they have one.
  • The age and health of each party.
  • The length of the marriage.

In some circumstances, rehabilitative spousal support may also be awarded in the state of California. This situation typically involves support being awarded to the lower-earning party to complete work training or education. This type of support ends when the individual can financially support themselves.

In addition to the three common types of spousal support, the state of California also offers two additional types. They are:

  • Lump-sum spousal support. This type of support may be offered instead of a property settlement. This means that the lower-earning spouse receives a single lump sum of money instead of dividing certain marital property.
  • Reimbursement spousal support. This type of support is described as a payment from one of the ex-spouses to the other to reimburse them for the costs they encounter for educational programs and other types of training. This type of support aims to enable the spouse who earns less to have the opportunity to further their skills and find substantial work that will allow them to become financially independent.

Trust the Lawyers Who Will Help You Get the Support You Need

If you are going through a divorce, it is likely one of the most trying times of your life, and you may be fearful of what lies ahead. Having a trusted attorney on your side to ensure your financial stability after your marriage dissolves is one of the first glimmers of hope that divorcees see. Reach out to the experienced professionals at Bickford, Blado & Botros to find out how we can help you get the support you need during and after your divorce.



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