Can You Still Get Alimony if You Work?

Alimony, also called spousal support, is money that one spouse has to pay the other to bridge the gap between their incomes after a divorce. It is a means of ensuring that the recipient can continue enjoying the standard of living to which he or she was accustomed during the marriage. While alimony is most often awarded to an unemployed spouse in California, it is possible to still get alimony if you work. You may need assistance from an attorney in this case.

When Is Alimony Awarded in California?

Spousal support is granted by a judge in a divorce case in California when one spouse has the financial means and the other has the financial need. In general, alimony is awarded when there is a disparity in how much each spouse makes, such as if one spouse works while the other is unemployed. In this scenario, the higher-earning spouse might be required to pay the other a specific amount to maintain the recipient’s quality of living.

The courts in California will analyze a variety of factors to determine if alimony is warranted, including:

  • The needs of each spouse, based on the standards of living established during the marriage.
  • The ability of the supporting spouse to pay alimony.
  • The marketable skills and education of the lower-earning spouse.
  • The extent to which the lower earner’s ability to earn was impaired by periods of employment due to maintaining the household or taking care of children.
  • The ability of the lower earner to become financially independent, taking into account dependent children.
  • Each party’s obligations, debts and assets, including separate property.
  • Any evidence of domestic violence or abuse.
  • The balance of the hardships to each party.

If you wish to seek alimony during your divorce case in California, you must make this request with the courts before your case is finalized. The courts may award temporary alimony and/or permanent alimony. Temporary alimony is given to the recipient while the divorce is still being processed. Permanent alimony is part of the divorce decree after the dissolution is finalized. The length of time that an alimony order lasts depends on the circumstances, including the length of the marriage.

Is Alimony Only Given to Nonworking Spouses?

No. Although it is less common, alimony can be awarded to a spouse with a job and steady income in California. However, alimony or spousal maintenance is always given to the lower-earning spouse (never vice versa). If both parties work and earn incomes, the lower earner may still qualify for alimony if the disparity between how much each person makes is significant and if the courts believe that alimony is necessary to maintain the lower earner’s standard of living.

It can be more difficult to prove to a judge that alimony is necessary when the potential recipient works and is capable of making an independent living. If you work, you or your lawyer will need to show that your circumstances still put you in need of economic support from your ex-spouse after the divorce. You may be limited to only earning a low amount, for example, due to raising children or a permanent disability. You will need to establish financial need, despite your job, to qualify for alimony payments.

Will You Lose Alimony if You Go Back to Work?

Most alimony payments are not lifelong orders. They come with end dates. Some spousal support orders, especially in longer marriages, come with specific timeframes; for example, the order may automatically terminate after a certain number of years. In other cases, however, alimony is awarded on an as-needed basis, with no specific end date.

In this scenario, the recipient may be required to make a good-faith attempt to find gainful employment and become financially independent while receiving alimony. The courts will reassess the situation periodically to ensure compliance. Once the spouse does find work and achieves financial stability, the paying party may no longer be legally required to make alimony payments, or the payments may be reduced. However, each case is unique.