Providing peaceful resolutions Paving paths to a fresh start
Call for your consultation

What Are the Legal Considerations for Spousal Support in a Long-Term Marriage?

Latest News

What Types of Spousal Support Are Allowed in California?

Spousal support (sometimes referred to as alimony) is sometimes part of a divorce plan and involves one spouse providing financial support to the other. It’s often used when the couple has been married for a long time, when one spouse has left the workforce to stay home with children, or if one spouse has a disability that makes it difficult for them to work outside the home.

California recognizes two types of spousal support. It’s not gender-specific so that any spouse might request it.

Temporary Spousal Support

This support applies only during the divorce process, before the divorce is finalized (although there are some circumstances in which it may be extended past the divorce decree). A typical example would be a stay-at-home parent receiving support during the divorce process because they don’t have outside income. It’s based on one spouse’s need for financial help and the other spouse’s ability to provide it.

Long-Term Spousal Support

This support (sometimes called rehabilitative alimony) is enacted by finalizing the divorce in court. It’s sometimes also referred to as permanent spousal support, but that term is often inaccurate. The goal of long-term spousal support is to enable the spouse with financial need to find gainful employment or undergo any necessary training or education to do so. The long-term goal is for that spouse to become self-sufficient.

Most of the time, the court orders this type of support with an expiration date. But the judge has the right to change that if circumstances warrant it.

What Do California Courts Consider When Determining Spousal Support?

For temporary spousal support, the courts usually look at the standard of living each spouse enjoyed during the marriage. Obviously, dividing one household into two raises the overall cost of living. However, if one spouse significantly out-earns the other, the high earner will likely pay some portion to the other while the divorce is finalized. A common calculation the courts use is to take 40% of the higher-earning spouse’s net monthly income and subtract 50% of the lower-income spouse’s income from it. 

That calculator doesn’t apply for long-term spousal support. Instead, the court looks at a list of circumstances (and the items considered may vary depending on the individuals involved and their specific situations).

  • Standard of living. As with temporary support, the standard of living the couple enjoyed while married will be considered.
  • Debts and assets. The court will examine what each spouse owns or owes, jointly or separately.
  • Length of the marriage. The longer the marriage lasted, the more impact it might have on spousal support orders.
  • Health and age. Each spouse’s health and age are taken into consideration.
  • Income and ability to pay. The court looks at each spouse’s current or potential future income (if they’ve been out of the workforce for a while) and whether or not the spouse being asked to pay will be able to afford it.
  • Support of one spouse for the other. If the spouse who is to be paid support contributed to the other spouse’s education or career in some way, the court will consider that.
  • Taxes. How the support payments affect each spouse regarding their tax situation is addressed.
  • Hardships. The court will examine any hardships either spouse faces or could face after the divorce.
  • Domestic violence. If there’s a documented history of violence (whether it’s violence against one spouse or against children in the household), the court will review that.

Can Spousal Support Be Changed Later?

It’s possible to change the amount of support paid, whether by increasing or decreasing it if there’s been a significant change to one or the other spouse’s financial situation later. For example, if the spouse paying support loses their job and has difficulty finding a new one, or the spouse receiving support begins a new, more lucrative career, the support payments may be reduced.

What if the Separated Couple Wasn’t Married?

It should also be noted that spousal support refers specifically to legally married couples. Unmarried couples (known as domestic partners) may also receive support (legally known as domestic partner support and casually called palimony). Still, it has some limitations and requirements that differ from the marriage version.

Neither partner is automatically entitled to palimony if they break up. In order to apply for support, the couple must prove they have an agreement or understanding regarding one partner providing financial support to the other once separated. That agreement should be in writing and signed by both partners. If you’re unsure of the best way to set up a legally enforceable support agreement, contact an experienced family law attorney.

One vital aspect of this situation is that the couple must have lived together, not just been dating. The law holds that the reason for palimony is to compensate one partner for what were essentially unpaid domestic services.

What Should I Do if I Need Help with Spousal Support?

Call Hepner & Pagan as soon as possible at 408-688-9153 to request an intake appointment. We understand that spousal support can be a fraught topic during the divorce process, and we’re here to support you and help guide you through it. Having your own attorney to represent you and your best interests is highly advisable. Our team of experienced, knowledgeable spousal support attorneys can help you develop a plan to potentially reach the best possible outcomes.

Related Articles