The Basics of California Alimony or Spousal Support

Alimony, also known as spousal support, is a monthly or lump-sum payment, determined by the courts or by mutual agreement, made by one spouse to the other after they separate.  Because couples typically share resources during marriage, alimony is meant to correct inequalities in financial circumstances post-separation.


The amount one receives in spousal support can vary greatly depending on his or her financial circumstances (e.g. whether they were the lower-wage earner or a non-wage earner) and the duration of the marriage.


Temporary  vs. “permanent” alimony


There are two types of alimony – temporary and “permanent.”


Temporary support, sometimes referred to as pendente lite support, is what a spouse gets while the divorce case is pending in the court.  Its purpose is to enable the recipient to live in his or her accustomed manner while the divorce case is pending.   However, this is seldom actually achieved, as the parties are typically trying to maintain separate households on the same incomes from when they were living  together.  So all the court can really do is equitably allocate the family income, which they usually do by use of a formula.  For example, Ventura, Santa Barbara, and Los Angeles counties have all adopted a formula which roughly results in the supported spouse getting 40% of the parties combined net spendable income.


“Permanent” support is not really permanent.  A better label would be long-term support, although even that can be misleading, as it could be for a very short term.  A correct label would be post-judgment support.  This support is not based on any formula, and is usually a little less than the amount of temporary support.


Factors considered by the courts when awarding post-judgment alimony.


Because the personal and economic circumstances of individuals vary greatly, it is impossible to provide an estimate of how much an ex-spouse will receive in post-judgment alimony. However, every court must consider certain conditions when determining the level of spousal support an ex is entitled to, including:


  • The earning potential of each spouse, including likely career trajectory and marketable skills or whether mental or physical health conditions might prevent a former spouse from becoming self-sufficient.
  • Income, property, and other assets as well as debts and obligations of each spouse.
  • The couple’s standard of living during the marriage.
  • The duration of the marriage.
  • If there are children and who will have custody.
  • Whether one spouse directly contributed to or made sacrifices to support the other spouse’s career or education.
  • If the payer spouse will be able to adequately provide for their needs while also supporting their ex-spouse.
  • Each party’s age and health.
  • Any documented history of domestic violence between the parties.
  • The goal that the supported party be self-supporting within a reasonable period of time.


The court has great discretion in setting the amount and duration of post-judgment spousal support, as long as the court has correctly considered and applied these conditions in reaching its decision.


Forms of Orders.


Court orders for post-judgment alimony take a variety of forms.  One common form is a set amount that can be modified, but without any set date for when it would end.  Another form is a modifiable amount for a set amount of time.  Sometimes the court will make orders that are payable in decreasing amounts – these are commonly known as “step-down orders.”  When circumstances do not presently support an alimony order, the court may simple reserve jurisdiction to make orders in the future when things change.


When to contact a family law attorney.


In some cases, spouses are able to amicably come to an agreement on their own terms. However, if negotiations have reached an impasse, or you simply are not sure how much you are entitled to or should pay, or your spouse refuses to make their court-ordered alimony payments, you should contact a family law attorney.


If you are seeking legal counsel regarding alimony payments, contact our seasoned family law attorneys at Norman Dowler, LLP. Since 1958, we have helped thousands of clients with their legal matters, providing legal representation tailored to Ventura, Santa Barbara, and Los Angeles Counties.

Comments are closed.