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What is alimony and how much am I entitled to?

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If you are getting divorced in California, you may be entitled to Spousal Support (also known as alimony). The intent of the California Legislature in enacting laws for Spousal Support was to help transition spouses who are not able to support themselves or who maybe were not working outside of the home prior to the divorce proceedings being initiated. It is important to remember that spousal support is rarely enough to support an entire household, and generally, the Court expects the supported spouse to become self-supporting in a reasonable amount of time.

What Is Temporary Spousal Support? How Does That Differ From Permanent Spousal Support?

There are two types of Spousal Support in California: Temporary Spousal Support and Permanent Spousal Support. Temporary spousal support occurs while your divorce case is pending and is intended to maintain the status quo while you finalize your case. It ensures that the lower earning spouse has enough to maintain the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage until a final Judgment is entered. Permanent spousal support is any support ordered by the court or agreed upon as part of a final Judgment and will be continue to be payable thereafter. Permanent is a misnomer, though, as in most cases the support is not permanent.

How Long Will I Receive Spousal Support?

If you were married for 10 years or more, you have what is considered a “long-term” marriage. With a long-term marriage, the general rule is that the supported party is entitled to indefinite spousal support. This means that the supported party continues to receive support until certain triggering events occur—cohabitation of the supported spouse, remarriage of the supported spousal, or death of either party.

If you were married for less than 10 years, you have what is considered a “short-term” marriage. The general rule with short-term marriages, is that spousal support (both temporary and permanent) shall be paid for at least half the length of your marriage. For example, if you were married for 6 years and 8 months, you could be eligible for support for 3 years and 4 months of spousal support.

These are general rules and the facts of your individual case could impact both the amount and length of support in both long-term and short-term marriages.

Am I Eligible to Receive Spousal Support?

In general, if there is a disparity in income between you and your spouse or you have not worked recently because you were raising the children or tending to domestic duties, you will be eligible to receive at least temporary spousal support, and possibly permanent spousal support.

How Is Temporary Spousal Support Calculated?

Before you can receive any spousal support, you must fill out an Income and Expense Declaration (FL-150) and file it with the Court. You must sign this document under penalty of perjury, and in it you will detail you monthly expenses and income. Your spouse must do the same. The default way of determining temporary support in California, which is called “guideline” support, is to use a computer calculation program such as ExSpouse or Dissomaster, which has the calculation laid out in the applicable statute built into it. You input information about your income, insurance expenses, property taxes, retirement contributions etc., and the program will determine the number based on comparing your income and expenses with your spouse’s.

Can Temporary Spousal Support Be Changed?

Yes. Temporary spousal support orders can be changed if the income of either party changes, if the supported party begins working, or if the supporting party stops working.

Will the Temporary Spousal Support Become Permanent Spousal Support?

No. The computer program used to calculate guideline temporary spousal support cannot be used to calculate permanent spousal support. Instead, the Court and/or the parties’ attorneys will look at the various factors detailed in California Family Code section 4320. This analysis takes into account the assets of the parties, their work histories, their ability to work, the need of the supported party, and the ability of the supporting party to pay.

If I Am Getting Spousal Support, Do I Have to Work?

In short, yes. The court will make exceptions for parties who are disabled or nearing retirement age, but generally if you are able to work, you should be working. What does this mean for spousal support? It means that you could find yourself subject to a Court Order that you find a job or engage in a specific number of job-seeking activities per week, and that you report these efforts to the court. While it is rare for courts to immediately make orders that you begin working, it is important that you make a good faith effort to find employment in most situations.

What Should I Do Now?

While some people choose to try and handle their divorce cases on their own, if you are concerned about spousal support and what to do you should seek the advice of an attorney.

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