Guidelines for Spousal Support and Alimony in California
Divorce can be an emotionally, legally and financially complex process. Couples who share a considerable amount of assets, have young children, or have one spouse who is financially dependent on the other may face additional issues when ending their marriage. Alimony can be an especially heated issue, as many spouses are unable to reach a compromise and cannot decide the issue between themselves. In the event that an agreement cannot be reached, a long and difficult court battle may be the only option for resolving the issue. Couples who find themselves in this situation often need help from an experienced and dedicated family law attorney to ease the process.
The California alimony attorneys of Bamieh & De Smeth, PLC have decades of experience representing husbands and wives throughout the divorce process. Our skilled advocates can efficiently resolve any alimony disputes that arise during the proceedings, as well as help to modify, enforce, or terminate your spousal support orders. We are committed to bringing you peace of mind during this difficult time. To learn more about how we can assist you with your alimony matter, contact our law offices at (805) 643-5555 today. We are happy to answer your questions, discuss your concerns, and help you understand your legal rights.
Types of Spousal Support and Alimony in California
Alimony, also referred to as spousal support, can be a confusing topic under California law. There are several types of spousal support that may be awarded in California. Alimony pendent lite (“APL”) is a type of spousal support that is paid to a spouse during the pendency of a divorce proceeding. The intended purpose of APL is to allow a dependent spouse equal footing to prosecute or defend the divorce action. APL is temporary in nature and will automatically terminate upon the determination of all economic aspects of the divorce. This type of alimony is generally available where the recipient spouse has demonstrated a need for maintenance and professional services during the pendency of the proceedings. Marital misconduct is not relevant to this type pf alimony and will not be considered when determining eligibility for APL.
“Permanent alimony” is generally a long-term payment plan whose duration is proportionate to the length of the marriage. Under California law, a marriage is defined as “long-term” if it lasts more than ten years. Although you may have heard the term “permanent alimony,” support orders do not typically last until death. There are certain instances where alimony is truly permanent, but most alimony payments are eventually reduced or terminated by the independent (payor) spouse. Unlike APL, permanent alimony is only issued after a final judgment of divorce or dissolution of a marriage. The general rule is that if a marriage is not long-term, the time period for spousal support should not exceed the length of half of the marriage. For instance, if a couple is married for 5 years, the law expects that a recipient spouse should be able to become rehabilitated and self-supporting in no more than two and a half years.
Keep in mind that family law judges are allowed wide discretion when deciding these issues and may even be permitted to deviate from the California guidelines when appropriate.
How are Spousal Support and Alimony Decided in California?
California judges have a long list of factors to consider These factors are set forth under California Family Code § 4320, and include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Each spouse’s age and health.
- Each spouse’s debts and assets, such as property or vehicles.
- How each spouse’s tax obligations will be affected.
- How long it will take for the recipient spouse to complete the training or education required to become financially independent.
- The ability of the recipient spouse to work without having a detrimental effect on his or her children – for example, how many hours each day can the recipient be away from home? Will he or she need to hire a babysitter, or send the child to daycare?
- The recipient spouse’s marketable skills.
- Whether either spouse has a history of domestic violence, domestic abuse, or other criminal convictions.
- Whether the recipient spouse helped pay for the supporting spouse’s college education or other academic or professional training, and if so, to what extent.
- “The ability of the supporting party to pay spousal support, taking into account the supporting party’s earning capacity, earned and unearned income, assets, and standard of living.”
- “Any other factors the court determines are just and equitable.”
As evidenced by the final factor, this list is not exhaustive and there are many other issues that may come into play when a judge is deciding these issues. An experienced family law attorney can help predict how a judge might weigh these factors.
Can Spousal Support Orders Be Modified in California?
A spouse requesting the modification of a support order in California must show that there has been a material change in circumstances since the order was made. California Family Code §4320 lays out the events that can constitute such a change. The change must be material, i.e., significant enough to justify re-assessing the issue. Simply showing any change will not be enough. The change must also be unanticipated. The loss of a job, a sudden illness or the birth of another child to support are events likely (but not guaranteed) to trigger the modification of a support order.
Can Alimony Orders Be Retroactive in California?
Retroactivity of support in a modification proceeding typically goes back to the date of filing the request to modify or terminate. If a spouse makes a modification request due to sudden unemployment, California courts must make the retroactive modification to the later date of the service request for modification or the date of unemployment. A retroactive order may entitle the payor spouse to be reimbursed for the excess amounts he or she paid during the retroactive period of time. For instance, if the support payment is lowered from $5,000 to $3,000 and the order is dated retroactively back three months, the court may order that the dependent spouse repay the excess $6,000 to the payor spouse.
How Does Child Support Affect Alimony in California?
When spouses have children, the alimony calculation is typically made in consideration of the child support calculation. The amount of alimony will be adjusted according to the amount, if any, of child support that the independent spouse has been ordered. In situations where child support payments are eliminated (for instance, if a child reaches the age of majority or becomes emancipates), the alimony payment may increase. Family law courts are courts of law, but also courts of equity, so they are typically flexible with their decisions and truly try to make decisions that are in the best interest of all parties.
Contact an Experienced Ventura Alimony and Spousal Support Attorney Today
Divorce is an already complicated issue and alimony and support cases are some of the hardest to litigate and resolve. The spouse requesting support expects to continue to live at the same standard he or she enjoyed during marriage and the other spouse will often protest that they cannot afford to maintain that lifestyle while still paying for their own expenses. For this reason, an experienced California alimony attorney is essential when dealing with these difficult issues. The attorneys of Bamieh & De Smeth, PLC have the resources and experience to efficiently and successfully handle your divorce and alimony proceedings. We will do whatever it takes to ensure the case is handled fairly and quickly. To learn more about how we can assist you with your alimony matter, contact our law offices at (805) 643-5555 today.