Despite California being a community property state, there are still disagreements over finances when it comes to dissolution of a marriage. Divorces are messy — they are even more messy when one spouse has dedicated their marriage to raising a family and taking care of the home foregoing the opportunity to pursue a career. Oftentimes, this will result in the working spouse being required to make alimony payments to the non-working spouse.
Who is Entitled to Collect Alimony Under California Laws?It is important to remember, alimony payments, or spousal support, can be awarded to either spouse, regardless of gender. The courts will take a hard look at a number of factors when considering alimony payments including:
- Ability to earn a living
- Standard of living during the marriage
- Amount of child support (if any) awarded
- Assets of both parties
- Health and age of both parties
- Length of marriage
Common Misconceptions About California Alimony PaymentsOne common myth about alimony is that it is meant to be punitive. This is not the case in any way. Regardless of the reasons for your divorce, there will not be an increase in the amount of alimony you can be awarded. Some other misconceptions include:
- Once alimony is ordered by the court it cannot be altered — this is not true. If you are awarded alimony by the court there are circumstances where you may lose alimony or have the amount increased. Talk to your attorney about this further.
- If I do not want to work it will not impact alimony — this is also not true. Alimony in California is designed to be a bridge to allow the recipient to transition from being part of a couple to being a single person who is financially self-sufficient. Should the recipient of alimony refuse to seek alternative methods of supporting themselves, the court could reduce or eliminate alimony. There are exceptions to this, particularly in long-term marriages which you should discuss with your family law attorney.
- Child support has no bearing on alimony — this is also an inaccurate statement. When alimony is calculated, it is done after child support is calculated. This means in many cases, the overall total of alimony awarded is based on a lower income scale because the court's first obligation is to ensure the financial stability of the child or children.
- Sole assets or assets awarded in divorce will not impact alimony — this is false. If one spouse has sole assetssuch as an inheritance, recovery from a lawsuit, or assets they brought into the marriage, these assets may be considered when a court awards alimony.
Alimony in Short-Term Marriages Versus Long-Term MarriagesBecause the length of your marriage does have an impact on alimony, it is important you understand how time factors into alimony awards. In most cases, the courts take the position a marriage which lasted 10 years or less will result in alimony being awarded for one-half of the length of the marriage. This means if your marriage lasted six years, you may be entitled to collect alimony for only three years. For long-term marriages, other factors including health, education, and employability will be more heavily weighted. In marriages where one spouse provided support while another spouse enriched their earning capacity by either working, or caring for children and the home, or otherwise helping their spouse will be considered as well. In general, the longer the marriage, the longer the duration of alimony — and the more likely alimony will be permanent instead of temporary. To ensure permanent alimony is awarded, the final agreement or judgment must not contain a "Gavron Warning" which is defined as "fair warning to the supported spouse that s/he is expected to become self-supporting." Your family lawyer can explain this to you further, as it may not apply in your case.
What You Should Know About Alimony ModificationsOnce an order has been issued for alimony payments, either party may request the court review the order for modification provided there are no stipulations in the agreement which prohibit such a request. Before a modification may be requested however, there must be a material change which warrants the request or the court may simply deny such a request. Material changes may include:
- Paying spouse lost well-paying job and had to settle for a lesser-paying job
- Paying spouse has retired from employment
- Paying spouse has received a substantial increase in wages
- Receiving spouse is now working
- Receiving spouse has inherited money/received a windfall (winning lottery, etc.)
- Receiving spouse is cohabiting or remarried
- Children of the marriage have reached age of majority and child support is no longer being received by the spouse receiving alimony