Alimony, also known as spousal support or spousal maintenance, is a financial agreement that may be ordered in a divorce or legal separation case in California. Its goal is to make the financial situations of both spouses more equal. Spousal support is not awarded in every California divorce case. If a case does involve alimony, there are four main types.
The main kinds of alimony in California are temporary (short-term) and permanent (long-term). Temporary alimony is referred to in family law as “alimony pendente lite,” which is Latin for alimony “pending the litigation.” It refers to a financial award given to one spouse while a family law matter is pending.
Temporary alimony can help the lower-earning spouse by providing necessary financial support during the legal process involved in getting a divorce or legal separation. During this time, the higher earner will be required to pay an amount in alimony to the other spouse to help maintain his or her standard of living. Temporary alimony may or may not turn into permanent alimony when the case is resolved.
Permanent alimony refers to a long-term order given by the courts as part of a divorce decree or legal separation agreement. Contrary to its name, permanent alimony does not necessarily mean it will last forever. Instead, it refers to a long-term alimony arrangement that can last for months or years. Permanent alimony may be awarded in a California divorce case if the marriage was long (10 or more years) and if one spouse earned significantly more than the other.
Factors that a judge will consider when determining whether a spouse receives long-term alimony include the age and physical condition of both spouses, both spouses’ incomes and ability to earn, the standard of living during the marriage, and the ability of the lower earner to become self-supporting. The longer the marriage, the longer the permanent alimony order will most likely last. There are cases where permanent alimony can be lifelong, although this is rare.
Rehabilitative spousal support is a type that the higher-earning spouse may have to pay while the lower-earner searches for a job or takes the steps necessary to become self-supporting. This may include going back to school, obtaining professional certification, or training to expand employment options. Rehabilitative alimony awards typically end when the recipient becomes financially independent. The lower-earning spouse may have to show a good-faith attempt to get work or improve job prospects to continue receiving rehabilitative alimony. If the recipient remarries, this may also terminate rehabilitative alimony.
Alimony support payments are typically made in monthly installments in an amount that is assigned by the courts. The duration of these monthly payments will depend on the case. However, some divorce cases result in lump-sum alimony awards (also known as alimony in gross), which is a single, larger payment made just one time. This type of support may be given in lieu of a property settlement. If one spouse does not want any marital property, for example, a lump-sum payment to that spouse may be ordered from the other spouse instead.
The Myth of Reimbursement Alimony
You may have also heard of “reimbursement alimony” in California. However, this type of alimony does not exist under state law. There is a reimbursement provision that exists in the community property division law. This provision requires reimbursements given to any spouse that made financial contributions to the other spouse’s education or career if these contributions significantly enhanced the recipient’s capacity to earn. If reimbursement is awarded, it is part of a property division agreement, not alimony.
For more information about the types of alimony that your family law matter may involve in California, contact an attorney with experience handling divorce cases in San Diego at Boyd Law for a free case evaluation.