Alimony, or spousal support, generally ranks among the issues that most concern California couples in the process of divorcing. Understanding why and how courts award alimony can give you a better general idea of what to expect as you proceed.
In general, courts award alimony in the presence of an income discrepancy between the divorcing spouses. Without these considerations, the spouse with the lesser income often suffers financially and may have difficulty setting up an independent living situation.
The two main types of California alimony are temporary and permanent. Judges may order temporary alimony payments for the duration of the divorce proceedings. These are intended to tide over the spouse with the lower income until the final divorce decree setting forth long-term arrangements comes into force.
The divorce decree may include an award of permanent alimony. Despite its name, this type of support is not necessarily indefinite. The decree may contain provisions for a specific duration, which often depends on the length of the marriage. Permanent alimony aims to help the spouse with the lower income maintain a standard of living approximately equivalent to that enjoyed during the marriage.
It is important to understand that courts often award alimony to a lower-income spouse with a fairly high actual income. An individual does not need to toe the poverty line to receive spousal support.
How courts determine amounts and duration
Alimony also has the purpose of sustaining the lower-income spouse until he or she can achieve financial independence. When determining duration and payment amounts, judges consider several factors. These can include the spouses' respective incomes, potential for future earnings, any additional schooling or underpaid work experience necessary to allow them to support themselves, as well as the couple's standard of living during the marriage.
Judges may also take into account nonfinancial contributions that may have curtailed a spouse's ability to earn. For example, a spouse who stays home to raise the children makes an important contribution but also has less earning potential than someone who was in the workforce for the same time.
If you are beginning the divorce process, an experienced attorney can help you avoid alimony mistakes and give you a realistic assessment of your options.