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Understanding Spousal Support in California: A Comprehensive Guide

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Spousal support, also known as alimony, is considered in some California divorce and legal separation proceedings. It refers to the financial assistance that one spouse may be ordered to pay the other to support their monthly expenses and maintain a reasonable standard of living. This support can also be awarded in cases involving domestic violence.

Understanding spousal support laws is crucial for several reasons. Firstly, being knowledgeable about these laws enables individuals to make informed decisions during negotiations or court proceedings. Furthermore, having a clear understanding of spousal support laws helps individuals set realistic expectations regarding the financial obligations or entitlements they may face. Additionally, understanding spousal support laws allows individuals to evaluate the fairness of any proposed spousal support orders.

Our Los Angeles lawyers at Claery & Hammond, LLP seek fair outcomes for our clients. Schedule a consultation by calling us at (310) 817-6904.

Who Can Get Spousal Support?

The eligibility criteria for spousal support are not limited to just one spouse. Whether the husband or wife, either can potentially receive spousal support if they demonstrate a genuine financial need. Spousal support provides financial assistance to the spouse who may require additional support to maintain a reasonable standard of living during or after the dissolution of the marriage.

In certain circumstances, a spouse may be prohibited from receiving spousal support. One such situation is when a spouse has been convicted of domestic violence within the previous five years.

Types of Spousal Support

In California, spousal support comes in two forms, each serving a specific purpose and having its own considerations.

Temporary Spousal Support

Temporary spousal support is what it sounds like—an interim form of financial assistance provided to one spouse while the family law case is in progress. It aims to address the immediate needs of the requesting spouse during the divorce or legal separation proceedings.

Factors Considered When Determining Temporary Support

When determining temporary support, the court considers several factors, including the requesting spouse's financial needs and the paying spouse's ability to pay. This assessment ensures that the temporary support amount is fair and reasonable based on both parties’ circumstances.

Calculating Temporary Support

Calculating temporary spousal support often involves using a general formula. Typically, it entails deducting half of the receiving spouse's net monthly income from 40% of the paying spouse's net monthly income. This calculation can be subject to deviation if other factors come into play. For instance, the court may adjust the support amount accordingly if significant expenses exist, such as high medical bills, or if the paying spouse is responsible for the child's college education.

Duration and Modification of Temporary Support

Temporary spousal support expires when the family law case concludes. However, if either spouse experiences a substantial change in their financial situation during the case, they can request a modification of the support amount. This means that the amount can be adjusted or, in some instances, support can be terminated altogether.

Permanent Spousal Support

Permanent spousal support, often called long-term spousal support, is awarded once the divorce is finalized. Unlike temporary support, which serves as a temporary measure, permanent support aims to provide ongoing financial assistance to the receiving spouse.

Factors Considered When Determining Permanent Support

When determining long-term spousal support, the court considers various factors.

These factors include the following:

  • Duration of marriage
  • Age and health of each spouse
  • Earning capacity and income of each spouse
  • Standard of living
  • Assets and debts
  • Contributions by one spouse to the other’s education, training, or career
  • Tax implications
  • Domestic violence

Duration of Long-Term Support

The duration of permanent support depends on the specific circumstances of the case. In marriages less than 10 years, the support may last for a period equal to half the length of the marriage.

For marriages lasting more than 10 years, there is no presumed time limit for support. Instead, the duration is typically based on the unique factors involved and the receiving spouse's ability to achieve financial independence.

Modification and Termination of Long-Term Support

Permanent spousal support can be modified when either spouse experiences a significant change in their financial situation.

Modifying spousal support requires going through a specific process.

Below are the steps involved:

  • Preparing the Request for Order and Income and Expense Declaration forms
  • Submitting paperwork to the appropriate court
  • Serving the other party with copies of the documents
  • Attending a hearing

Long-term spousal support can come to an end in several ways. Firstly, if the parties have a written agreement stipulating an end date for spousal support, the support obligation will terminate accordingly. This can give both parties certainty and a clear timeline for when support will no longer be required.

Secondly, the court can order the termination of spousal support based on the circumstances. This can occur if evidence suggests that the receiving spouse has become self-supporting or other relevant factors warrant the support termination.

Furthermore, spousal support obligations can end if the receiving spouse remarries. In this situation, the support obligation is typically terminated, as the assumption is that the receiving spouse now has the financial support of their new spouse.

Lastly, the death of either spouse will result in the termination of spousal support.

Enforcing Spousal Support Orders

When a paying spouse fails to comply with a spousal support order, the other spouse has legal options to enforce it. They can petition the court, bringing the issue to the judge's attention. The judge will then evaluate the circumstances and determine whether the paying spouse should be charged with contempt for willfully disobeying a court order.

Non-payment or non-compliance with spousal support orders can significantly affect the delinquent spouse. The court has various tools to ensure compliance and hold the delinquent spouse accountable.

One common consequence is wage garnishment, where the paying spouse’s employer withholds a portion of their wages and redirects them to the receiving spouse. This helps ensure a consistent stream of support and reduces the chances of non-payment.

Sometimes, the court may order asset liquidation to satisfy the spousal support arrears. To fulfill the outstanding support obligations, the delinquent spouse must sell certain assets, such as property, investments, or other valuable possessions.

Turn to an Attorney for Help with Your Case

Navigating the complexities of spousal support in California can be challenging, given the numerous factors, calculations, and legal considerations involved. It is crucial to seek the guidance of a knowledgeable family law attorney who can provide personalized advice based on your circumstances. They can help you understand your rights and obligations and guide you through the legal process.

To speak to one of our lawyers in Los Angeles, contact Claery & Hammond, LLP at (310) 817-6904.

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