California Alimony Laws Explained [2023]

Alimony, also known as spousal support, is a critical aspect of divorce proceedings that involves one spouse making payments to the other to support them financially post-divorce. In California, determining alimony involves several factors and considerations to ensure fairness and financial stability for both parties involved. 

Understanding the types of alimony and the criteria used to decide the amount and duration of support is crucial for anyone navigating a divorce in California. With the help of this article and a qualified divorce attorney, you can create an alimony agreement that is fair to both parties.

Types of Alimony in California

California has two types of alimony, each designed to address different financial needs and circumstances.

  • Temporary Alimony is support provided during the divorce proceedings. It ensures that both spouses maintain a certain standard of living until a final decision on alimony is reached. (Cal. Fam. Code § 3600 (2022)
  • Long-Term Alimony is part of the final judgment of a divorce when the judge orders one spouse to pay support to the other spouse for a specific time period. Long-term alimony is awarded with the judge advising the receiving spouse to work towards becoming self-supported. This gives the recipient spouse time to gain training, education, and other experience needed to get to the point where they can support themselves financially. (Cal. Fam. Code §§ 4330, 4331, 4334 (2022))

How to Determine Who Pays Alimony

In California, alimony can be requested by either spouse. Regardless of gender, if one spouse is in need of financial support and the other has the ability to pay, a judge will order the higher-paid spouse to pay alimony to the lower-earning spouse.

Factors Considered When Awarding Alimony

When considering alimony, the court will base their award on the amount necessary to maintain the same standard of living the couple enjoyed during their marriage. However, the court considers several other factors to determine the amount and duration of support.

  • Duration of Marriage — The length of the marriage is a significant factor. Typically, longer marriages often result in extended or permanent alimony, especially if the spouses have a substantial disparity in income and earning potential.
  • Income and Earning Capacity — The court considers each spouse’s income and earning potential. If one spouse earns significantly more or has substantially higher earning potential than the other, it might lead to an alimony award.
  • Standard of Living During Marriage — The court aims to ensure that both parties can maintain a standard of living similar to what they had during the marriage. If one spouse has sacrificed career opportunities to support the other or to raise children, it could influence the alimony decision.
  • Contributions to the Marriage — Non-financial contributions, such as homemaking, child-rearing, or supporting the other spouse’s career, are also considered. These contributions can impact the alimony determination.
  • Health and Age of the Parties — The physical and mental health of both spouses and their ages are considered. A spouse who is older, in poor health, or has limited earning capacity due to health issues may receive more support.
  • Assets and Debts — The division of assets and debts acquired during the marriage can influence alimony. If one spouse receives more assets in the divorce settlement, it might affect the alimony amount.
  • Child Custody and Support — If child custody is involved, the court considers the child support payments as part of the overall financial picture when determining alimony.
  • Other Relevant Factors — Any other relevant factors, such as tax consequences, the ability of the paying spouse to meet their needs while paying alimony, and a documented history of domestic violence, are also taken into consideration.

How Long Alimony Lasts in California

Temporary alimony only lasts until the divorce is final, but long-term alimony has no specific timeframe. When awarding long-term alimony, the recipient spouse should be able to financially support themself within a “reasonable amount of time,” which typically means half the length of the marriage. However, the judge can change the length of time alimony is paid based on the individual circumstances of the case.

Despite the ending date set in the court order, alimony will stop if the recipient spouse remarries or either spouse passes away. The couple can also set an end date for alimony payments in their settlement agreement. (Cal. Fam. Code § 4337 (2022)

Modifying Alimony Orders

Unless there was an agreement between the couple stating that alimony orders cannot be modified, a judge can change or end alimony if circumstances change (Cal. Fam. Code § 3651 (2022), and either party can file a motion to modify alimony with the court. It’s important to remember, however, that unless you and your spouse agree on the proposed modification, support modification proceedings can be complicated and should be handled by an experienced family law attorney.

Domestic Violence and Alimony

California law prohibits alimony being awarded to anyone who has been recently convicted of a felony for sexual violence or domestic violence against their spouse or if they have attempted to murder their spouse. The law also presumes that someone who has a misdemeanor conviction of domestic violence or other crimes against their spouse should not be awarded alimony. However, a judge may consider circumstances such as the convicted spouse’s history as a domestic violence victim when making the final determination. (Cal. Fam. Code §§ 4324, 4324.5, 4325 (2022)

Let The Gorski Firm Help You Navigate California Alimony Laws

Alimony in California is a complex and multifaceted aspect of divorce proceedings. Understanding the various types of alimony and the factors the court considers is crucial for individuals navigating the divorce process.

Ultimately, the goal of alimony is to ensure fairness and financial stability for both parties as they move forward with their lives post-divorce. Consulting with a knowledgeable attorney can provide valuable guidance and ensure a fair outcome based on the specific circumstances of each case.

The team at The Gorski Firm has been helping divorcing couples navigate alimony issues for years. We understand this is a challenging and emotional time for you, and we will help you find a fair and equitable solution for your situation.

Contact us today for a consultation. 

Written by Vincent A. Gorski

Vincent Gorski is a Bakersfield California Family Law and Bankruptcy lawyer. He is certified by the California Board of Legal Specialization in both Family Law and Bankruptcy. He is the founder of The Gorski Firm and assists clients in complex and routine family law and bankruptcy issues. He was licensed to practice in Indiana in 2007 and California in 2009. He regularly writes on topics related to Bankruptcy and Family Law issues (divorce, custody, visitation, support, property division, etc.)

November 20, 2023

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