Your Guide to Spousal Support in California
Divorce in California can be incredibly stressful and complicated, especially regarding the financial issues involved. The state upholds a strict community property statute that applies to property division, requiring divorcing spouses to evenly divide their marital assets, property, and debts. However, property division may not entirely resolve the financial issues present in a divorce. In some divorces, one spouse will need to pay spousal support, also known as alimony, to the other. Spousal support typically comes into play when one spouse is financially dependent on the other or unable to support themselves financially for other reasons.
If you plan to divorce in California, it’s natural to have concerns about your potential financial obligations to your soon-to-be ex-spouse. Whether you expect to pay or receive spousal support from your divorce, it’s vital to know how spousal support is determined, how long it lasts, and the conditions that would terminate an existing spousal support agreement.
How Is Spousal Support Determined?
Divorcing couples in California can resolve their divorce cases through litigation, but this is very time-consuming, expensive, and stressful for both parties. Additionally, the judge makes all final decisions regarding the couple’s divorce terms, and it’s possible that the judge could deliver a ruling that does not suit the interests or preferences of either spouse. As a result, many couples are choosing alternative dispute resolution like mediation to settle their divorce cases. This allows them to complete their divorces more quickly, saves money on legal fees, and generates more favorable divorce terms for both parties.
Spousal support comes into play when one spouse earns significantly more income than the other spouse or when one spouse has been entirely financially dependent on the other spouse during their marriage. California’s community property law requires divorcing spouses to evenly divide all their marital assets and debts. However, their property division resolution may still leave one spouse at a significant financial disadvantage.
Spousal Support Determination in Divorce Litigation
When a couple litigates their divorce, the judge may decide that spousal support is necessary. Therefore, they will likely issue a spousal support decree that takes the difference in income between the spouses into account and the length of their marriage, and each spouse’s separate property holdings. When a judge determines spousal support, they often use a standard formula as a baseline.
This formula is 40% of the higher-earning spouse’s income reduced by half of the lower-earning spouse’s income. For example, if the higher-earning spouse makes $20,000 per month, 40% of this would be $8,000. If the lower-earning spouse only earns $5,000 per month, half their income would be $2,500. The formula in this example would be $8,000 minus $2,500 for a spousal support obligation of $5,500 per month.
The judge ruling on spousal support may also consider other factors when calculating appropriate spousal support. For example, the lower-earning spouse may earn less income each month, but if they have significant separate property holdings and inheritance from their family, this will inherently reduce their need for ongoing spousal support. Ultimately, many factors can come under a judge’s consideration concerning spousal support when the couple litigates their divorce.
Can I Negotiate Spousal Support?
It is possible to negotiate spousal support through alternative dispute resolution in California. For example, when a divorcing couple mediates divorce, they may negotiate a more personalized spousal support agreement than what a judge could deliver. Some couples may even adjust property division, awarding a more significant share of marital property instead of an ongoing support agreement.
If you plan on pursuing divorce mediation, you and your spouse must agree on a mediator who has no conflicts of interest favoring either of you. The mediator can help the two of you reach mutually agreeable terms regarding spousal support and guide you through the various other aspects of your divorce. However, if you and your spouse have children, you will not be able to resolve custody or support through mediation. Instead, this aspect of your divorce must pass through a formal legal review before a judge so the court can verify the custody and support order suits the best interests of your children.
Your divorce attorney can help you approach spousal support negotiations with confidence, ultimately helping you reach a more agreeable outcome than you likely could have in divorce litigation. Remember that no matter how you and your spouse resolve spousal support, it’s vital for both of you to abide by the terms and conditions of the agreement to the letter.
When Does Spousal Support End?
When spousal support is approved in a California divorce, it will typically have a time limit based on the length the marriage lasted. For example, if a couple was only married for two years, spousal support may only be required for several months to a year. However, if the couple was married more than 10 years, spousal support typically continues for roughly half the length of the marriage. In rare cases, spousal support may be permanent, but this typically only happens when a divorcing couple was married more than 20 years or when one spouse is entirely unable to support themselves due to disability or medical complications.
Spousal support agreements will also have “terminating actions” listed that, once completed by the recipient, nullify the paying spouse’s support obligation. Typically, terminating actions include remarriage and cohabitation. If the recipient of spousal support marries a new partner or starts living with a new partner, this will preclude them from further spousal support payments.
Ultimately, spousal support is often contentious in California divorce cases. It can be difficult to remain objective about the financial aspects of your divorce, especially if there are strong emotional tensions beneath your divorce proceedings. However, the right attorney can have a significant positive impact on the outcome of your divorce. Bickford, Blado & Botros can offer the legal counsel you need to confidently approach your divorce case. Contact us today and schedule a consultation with an experienced California family law attorney who can guide you through your divorce with confidence.
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