How Long Do I Have to Pay Spousal Support?

Many Del Mar divorcés have unanswered questions following the termination of divorce proceedings. The court may make many orders regarding child support, spousal support and property division. While the duration and purpose of child support is clear, many ex-spouses are left wondering how long spousal support should continue. The primary purpose behind an award of spousal support is to ensure that the supported spouse has adequate income for his or her basic needs and provide a lifestyle as consistent as possible to the one enjoyed during marriage. Spousal support is determined upon consideration of a number of factors, primarily the need of the supported spouse and the other’s ability to pay.

There are two types of spousal support awarded by the court, temporary support and permanent support; however, the terminology is misleading. Temporary support is awarded during the interim period between when the divorce is filed and final. Permanent support is ordered at the conclusion of the case and in fact is not intended to be permanent. If a marriage lasts fewer than ten years, usually spousal support is ordered for half of the length of the marriage. If the duration of the marriage was ten years or longer, there is no general rule of thumb for the termination of spousal support.

The paying spouse however does not have an absolute duty to provide indefinite support. The Gavron warning is a fair warning given to a spouse who has been awarded spousal support that he or she is expected to become self-supporting within a reasonable time. The “reasonable time” element is highly subjective and within the great discretion of the court. Generally, the intent behind the warning is to encourage the spouse to become financially independent by seeking employment or another source of income. The Gavron warning was codified in California Family Code section 4330(b), “when making an order for spousal support, the court may advise the recipient of support that he or she should make reasonable efforts to assist in providing for his or her support needs…unless the court decides this warning is inadvisable.”

In deciding whether or not to deliver a Gavron warning, the court will also take into consideration all the other factors listed under California Family Code section 4320. These factors give the court guidance when ordering spousal support and include: (1) the earning capacity of each party, (2) the lifestyle of the couple during marriage, (3) the duration of the marriage, and (4) any documented history of domestic violence. As implied by the statute, the court will take into consideration the individual circumstances of each case. Thus, if the court does not believe it is appropriate to deliver the Gavron warning, it is not required to do so.

Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only lawyer in San Diego County representing clients in divorces, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don’t settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.

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