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Understanding Spousal Support in California

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If you are getting a divorce in California and you’ve never done this before, you’re going to want to get educated on California’s divorce laws, specifically those regarding property and debt division under California’s community property laws, spousal support, and child support and custody (where applicable). Because, knowledge is power.

For the purposes of this article, we are going to discuss the basics of spousal support under California law. This way, you’ll have a better understanding of what it is, when it’s awarded, and how long it lasts. If you have further questions, we invite you to contact our firm directly and schedule a free case evaluation with a member of our legal team. Now, let’s get started, here’s what you need to know.

Spousal Support is Not Automatic

There is no guarantee that spousal support will be awarded in a California divorce case. If one spouse earns significantly more than the lower-earning spouse, or if the dependent spouse has only a high school education, the chances of spousal support being awarded are higher. But, if the spouses have similar incomes, the chances of it being awarded are lower than if the higher-earning spouse had a much higher annual income.

Spousal Support is Not Affected by Adultery

Adultery is a factor in a large percentage of divorces, which is why a lot of our new clients ask us, “Can I avoid paying spousal support because my wife cheated on me?” Sorry to disappoint a lot of our readers, but California is a no-fault divorce state, which means the judge will not be interested in hearing about the infidelity.

The cheating will not affect the lower-earning spouse’s ability to receive spousal support. That’s how it is in California, but in some other states, adultery will bar a cheating spouse from receiving alimony, but that’s just not the case here.

You Can Reach Your Own Agreement

Spouses can reach their own agreements about the length and duration of spousal support through prenuptial and postnuptial agreements, and they can negotiate their own arrangement through a collaborative divorce. So, if you’re on friendly terms with your spouse, you can negotiate the terms of the spousal support.

On the other hand, if one spouse is seeking spousal support and the higher-earning spouse refuses to pay it, a judge will decide on the matter. It is not up to the higher-earning spouse.

Factors Considered When Awarding Spousal Support

Suppose a spousal support case lands on a judge’s desk. In this situation, the judge is going to examine a number of relevant factors when deciding whether or not to award spousal support. The types of factors considered by the judge include but are not limited to:

  • The length of the marriage,
  • The age and health of both spouses,
  • Each spouse’s individual income and assets,
  • Each spouse’s debts,
  • The standard of living established during the marriage,
  • The time a spouse spent as a homemaker,
  • Any history of domestic violence,
  • If one spouse helped the other spouse with their education, training, career, or professional license, and
  • If unemployment affected a spouse’s earning capacity.

How Long Does It Last?

If spousal support is awarded in a California divorce case, it’s usually awarded for one-half the length of the marriage. For example, if a marriage lasted five years, it would be typical for a judge to award spousal support for 2.5 years. However, judges have the power to award spousal support for a shorter or longer period of time.

One of the exceptions is marriages of a long duration, which is 10 or more years. If a marriage lasted 10 or more years, spousal support may be awarded without an end date. But that doesn’t mean it will last forever.

If the receiving spouse is healthy and employable, the paying spouse can ask the court to reduce or terminate the spousal support payments at a future date, especially if the receiving spouse makes no effort to become self-supporting over a lengthy period of time.

Can It Be Reduced or Terminated?

“Can spousal support be reduced or terminated” Yes, absolutely. Depending on the circumstances, either the paying or receiving spouse can go back to court and ask to have the spousal support reduced, increased, or terminated. But for a former spouse to ask the court to make any such change, he or she must be able to demonstrate that there has been a “significant change in circumstances.”

Examples of significant changes in circumstances:

  • The receiving spouse’s income increases significantly.
  • The paying spouse loses their job or their income is reduced.
  • The person getting support is not making an effort to become self-supporting.

What About Marital Misconduct?

As we mentioned earlier, cheating does not bar a lower-earning spouse from receiving spousal support, but there is one exception and it is domestic violence. If an abusive spouse is seeking spousal support, the judge will be interested in hearing about the abuse, whether it was against the couple’s child or the higher-earning spouse.

If there has been a restraining order or a conviction for domestic violence on behalf of the person seeking to be supported, and the judge is convinced this spouse committed domestic violence, the judge may decide not to award spousal support even if the abusive spouse would have otherwise been entitled to it.

Suggested Reading: 3 Rules for Dating After Divorce

We hope this article cleared up a lot of the questions that you had regarding spousal support. To learn more about it and to discuss your divorce case with a Los Angeles divorce attorney, contact our firm for a free consultation.


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