How Much Spousal Support Am I Entitled To?

If you are thinking about getting a divorce in California, the financial aspect of it may weigh heavily on your mind. No matter your income level, your financial situation can take a hit when you divorce. Spouses who didn't work or worked less while married are in a harder position because they are financially dependent on the other spouse. Rather than allow the spouse to succumb to a lower standard of living or become a public charge, spousal support might be established. 

Spousal support, spousal maintenance, and alimony are all terms used to describe a situation where one spouse pays another spouse a court-ordered payment for a certain amount of time during or after a divorce. In California, these payments are referred to as spousal support.

Spouses can agree on spousal support, but the end result must be fair. If you fail to agree, the spouse seeking support must file a formal notice with the court to request spousal support.

Spousal support can be temporary or permanent, the former of which is the norm. It can also be a lump-sum versus periodic monthly payments, the latter of which is the norm. Further, spousal support is not always in the form of money but can include a property transfer. Both lump-sum payments and property transfers may be non-modifiable once the order is issued. That means if circumstances change, the spousal support may not change. However, when it is in the form of periodic payments, spousal support is modifiable.

The circumstances of the spouses going through a divorce will determine both the amount and the duration of spousal support payments. Some of the most important factors that might influence spousal support include but are not limited to:

  • The length of the marriage
  • Age of the spouses
  • Mental or physical condition (health) of each spouse
  • The income disparity between the spouses
  • The likelihood that the financially-dependent spouse can secure a well-paying job
  • Professional skills or educational accomplishments of the dependent spouse
  • The couple's standard of living during the marriage
  • Individual assets of each spouse (need and ability to pay)
  • How long it would take for the dependent spouse to become self-sufficient
  • Impact of tax laws
  • Whether there was a history of abuse during the marriage
  • Any children and if child support will be needed

As mentioned above, you and your spouse can determine the amount by an agreement without interference of the court, keeping in mind it must be fair.

An end date can also be determined by agreement between the spouses, but if not, the court will determine it. Other times or in lieu of an end date, spousal support may terminate if one of the following occurs:

  1. The supported spouse remarries or cohabitates; or
  2. Either spouse dies.

A significant event may occur, too, which prompts an end to spousal support. In that case, it's determined on a case-by-case basis. Regardless of the reason to terminate spousal support, evidence may need to be provided to support the reason for termination.

Spousal support can be a highly contested aspect of any divorce. The spouse who may be ordered to pay spousal support may want to challenge it. If spousal support is contested, the final say on the matter will be the judge. It's important to try at all costs to come to an agreement because the expense of hearings or a trial can take its toll on a divorcing couple.

Once a spousal support order is signed by a judge, it is enforceable. Most times, payment is set up through the employer and automatically sent to the supported spouse. Other times, the paying spouse pays the supported spouse directly. The arrangement of spousal support payments will be included in the order. 

If the paying spouse fails to pay, they can be held in contempt of court and could face fines and penalties. The supported spouse can file a show-cause action with the court and a hearing will be set.

If you are entitled, or believe you may be entitled, to receive spousal support, you should consult with an experienced attorney to understand your rights and obligations, as well as your legal options.

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