How Are Alimony Payments Determined?

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The Californian family law system is set up so that when a couple separates, one spouse or domestic partner does not face unnecessary financial hardship when transitioning to single life.

Alimony payments, “spousal support” or “domestic partner support,” as you may hear it called, are payments made from one spouse to another for a specific period or indefinitely.

How do you know if you are eligible to receive alimony payments – or if you must pay them?

How much will be due, and how will it be paid?

What factors are considered when making these calculations?

Here’s what you need to know…

determining alimony payments

What is alimony?

Alimony payments may be ordered from one spouse (or “domestic partner”) to another after a divorce has been filed.

These payments are designed to aid the transition to single life and maintain living standards. 

The State of California wants to see both parties walk away from marriage on a balanced financial footing and become self-supporting within a reasonable timeframe. This often requires a period of support or, in some cases, indefinite approval.

Payments may be either temporary or permanent arrangements and may apply during the separation period, after the divorce is finalized, or both.

It should be noted that if there are dependent children in the marriage, spousal support calculations are made only after child support calculations, which are considered the priority in California.

What are the main types of spousal support in California?

Alimony may be awarded after a marriage officially ends or during the separation process if it is warranted.

There are four main types of alimony payments in California, including one that is unique to our state:

  1. Temporary support: this is spousal support ordered while a divorce is pending and is designed to maintain living standards for both spouses until the property has been divided and a final settlement reached. There is no expiry date for this type of support.
  2. Rehabilitative support: this is “post-divorce judgment” spousal support and is the most common type in California. It is generally awarded when one of the spouses earns more than the other and/or was the primary earner in the family while the other was a homemaker during the marriage. 
  3. Permanent spousal support: this is support awarded without an expiry date and applies until one of the individuals passes away or the recipient remarries. This is quite rare in California and is usually reserved for very long marriages where one spouse is unable to enter the workforce.
  4. Reimbursement support: this type of support applies when one spouse contributed to financing the education or career advancement training of the other during the marriage. This is to cover situations where spouses collaborate to allow one to get an advanced degree for the benefit of both partners during the marriage (after divorce, only the spouse with the degree benefits). It is unique to California.

How is alimony calculated?

The standard guidelines for temporary alimony vary from county to county in California, but the paying spouse’s support is generally taken to be the following:

40% of his or her net monthly income, reduced by one-half of the receiving spouse’s net monthly income.

The award of temporary support does not guarantee rehabilitative or permanent support after the divorce is finalized.

For post-divorce-decree alimony payments, calculations are far more complex. They depend on the unique circumstances of a relationship. 

One of the most important factors to be considered is the duration of the marriage, but it is not the only one. According to Family Code Section 4320, a total of 14 different factors will be assessed by the court in California before a final amount is determined. 

In addition to the length of the marriage, the court will consider the following:

  • The earning capacity of each spouse and the ability to maintain the standard of living established during the marriage.
  • Whether the supported party contributed to the education or career training of the supporting party.
  • The ability of the supporting party to pay spousal support (considering earning capacity, earned and unearned income, assets, and standard of living).
  • The needs of each party, based on the standard of living established during the marriage.
  • The obligations and assets of each party.
  • The ability of the supported party to engage in gainful employment.
  • The age and health of the parties.
  • Any documented history of domestic violence between the parties.
  • Any criminal conviction of an abusive spouse.
  • The tax consequences to each party.
  • The balance of the hardships to each party.
  • If the supported party is likely to become self-supporting within a reasonable period. 

The court may also consider any other factors deemed necessary for a fair judgment. 

The court has no interest in creating an unfair arrangement that results in undue financial hardship for either party so the above factors will be considered carefully before awarding spousal support.

How is the length of support determined?

For marriages lasting under ten years, the length of support will usually be equal to one-half of the time. So, for a marriage that lasted six years, the appropriate length of support is three years.

However, for marriages that last longer than 10 years, there is no automatic termination date. The lower-earning partner will receive support for as long as is required, providing the paying partner can pay.

How are payments made?

The court will decide how support payments are made. Generally, they will be periodic (monthly) and deducted automatically from the paycheck of the paying spouse (arranged by court order to the employer).

In rare cases, where it is beneficial to do so, lump-sum payments of property or cash are awarded. This is most likely where the paying spouse owns a large amount of property or money separately.

Can alimony payments be modified in California?

Once the court orders alimony payments, the payor is required by law to meet his or her obligations.

If there is a significant change of circumstances for either spouse, it is unlawful for payments to simply stop before the expiry date without receiving the appropriate court order to modify (or terminate) the spousal support arrangement.

Enforcement measures may be taken against you if you unilaterally stop payments even if the changes have been significant. Examples of significant changes include a payor being made redundant or suffering a serious injury or the recipient not making good-faith efforts to find employment.

Need help with alimony in Monterey or Hollister?

Spousal and partner support can be complex and it is not usually a simple case of punching numbers into a calculator.

It’s important to know your rights or obligations as the stakes can be high. Alimony arrangements can profoundly affect your immediate and longer-term finances.
If you need help with understanding alimony or assistance in completing the court forms, contact Giuliano Law at (831)293-1329 for an initial consultation.

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