What Is Alimony?

Alimony, also known as spousal support in California, is a financial order that may be awarded in a divorce or legal separation case if there is a disparity between how much either spouse makes. Alimony requires the higher-earning spouse to pay the lower earner a certain amount to maintain his or her standard of living. Learn more about how spousal support works in California.

Who Gets Alimony in California?

Alimony is not a guarantee in any divorce case. Whether or not an individual qualifies for alimony is determined on a case-by-case basis according to the couple’s specific circumstances. In general, alimony is awarded when one spouse is at an economic disadvantage after the marriage ends; for example, if one spouse was dependent on the other financially after giving up a career to raise a family. 

Alimony is meant to balance the scales financially between a couple after a divorce by requiring one spouse to pay the other, generally for a temporary amount of time. It is not punitive, meaning it is not intended to punish a spouse for causing the divorce or misbehaving during the marriage. Marital misconduct has no impact on spousal support decisions in California, as it is a no-fault divorce state. The sole reason for alimony is to maintain each person’s standard of living that he or she was used to during the marriage.

What Factors Affect Alimony in California?

When one spouse requests alimony during a divorce case, the courts will analyze the couple’s financial situation and circumstances to determine if spousal support is warranted. Many different factors impact a court’s alimony decision, including:

  • How long the couple was married
  • The age and health of both parties
  • The standard of living that was enjoyed during the marriage
  • Whether the lower earner sacrificed a career or education to support the other spouse
  • Whether the lower earner could get gainful employment while taking care of children
  • Each spouse’s financial assets and debts
  • The ability of the higher earner to pay
  • Any evidence of domestic violence or abuse
  • Any other factor that the court deems relevant

If the courts believe that one spouse in a divorce case has the means to pay and the other requires the money to maintain his or her pre-divorce lifestyle until the recipient can receive the training to become self-sufficient, alimony will be awarded.

How Long Does Alimony Last?

In terms of duration, there are two types of alimony: temporary and permanent. The names are misleading, however, as permanent alimony does not necessarily mean it will last forever. Instead, they refer to the timeline for the alimony payments. Temporary alimony is awarded while the divorce or legal separation is still pending to help the lower earner afford the transition of losing his or her spouse’s income.

Permanent alimony is an order that may be granted as part of the divorce decree. The duration of permanent alimony will depend on the situation. In California, spousal support can be paid for up to half the length of a marriage that lasted for less than 10 years. For marriages that lasted longer than 10 years, no specific duration may be assigned. 

Can I Modify or Terminate an Alimony Order?

Typically, a spousal support order will last until its affixed end date or until the circumstances of either party substantially change. However, either party can request to modify an alimony order at any time. For the courts to agree to modify an alimony order or terminate it early, the party seeking the modification must demonstrate a substantial change in circumstance since the order was given. 

Contact an Alimony Attorney in San Diego

To learn more about how alimony or spousal support orders work in an San Diego divorce case, contact Boyd Law for a legal consultation. Our attorneys can explain California’s alimony laws and let you know if you are likely to qualify for this payment, or if you may have to pay your spouse after the divorce. Our lawyers can also help you with an alimony modification, if necessary.