Duty To Support Spouse
California law imposes a duty on each spouse to support the other, both during the marriage and after separation and divorce. Spousal support (formerly known as “alimony”) is intended to help the supported spouse meet his or her financial needs according to the standard of living of the marriage, and to assist him or her during the transition from married to single person.
Many couples face disputes over the payment of spousal support, and we find that some of the highest level of conflict in divorce cases occurs during spousal support disputes.
Whether you are the sole breadwinner of your family or have been a financially dependent spouse, it is important to know your rights and obligations at the time of separation and divorce. This is especially true if you are a parent who has sacrificed his or her career to stay home and raise your children, or if you have a spouse who refuses to take reasonable steps to become self-supporting.
Length And Amount Of Spousal Support
One of the first questions we ask is the length of the marriage. In California, it is generally presumed that a spouse should be able to return to self-sufficiency within half the length of the marriage provided the marriage was less than ten years long. This presumption does not apply in long-term marriages of more than ten years.
There are also two types of spousal support with which parties should be familiar. The first, called temporary orpendente lite support, is typically ordered when the case first comes to court and remains in place during the divorce proceedings. Each county has its own schedule and formula for the determination of temporary spousal support, which is usually calculated using the same software used for calculation of child support.
Temporary support is basically intended to try and maintain the status quo of the parties pending the court’s determination of permanent, post-Judgment support and division of the community estate. Permanent spousal support is ordered by the court at trial (or otherwise negotiated by the parties), and is not based on any schedule but instead on the multitude of factors contained in Family Code S4320. Among these factors are the needs of the supported party, his or her ability to work and potential for future income; the supporting party’s ability to pay; the standard of living of the marriage; the length of the marriage and the special needs of either party.
Permanent spousal support is generally ordered for an indefinite period of time when the parties are coming out of a long-term marriage. But even though there is no set cut-off date, the supported spouse under California law is put on notice that he or she has an obligation to utilize his or her best efforts to become self-supporting.
Modification And/Or Termination Of Spousal Support
Spousal support is a complex issue in California because of the number of factors the court must consider. Some cases never make it to permanent spousal support because the marriage length was so short that the paying spouse’s obligation has already ended by the time Judgment is entered. On the other hand, some cases involve permanent spousal support orders that have been in place for 20 years or more.
Many clients ask us how they can seek modification or termination of their spousal support obligations. A permanent order typically ends with the death of either party or the remarriage of the supported spouse. However, the supporting spouse may usually seek modification of permanent support if there has been a material change in circumstances of the parties. Sometimes this is because the supported spouse has begun to earn a substantial income and no longer needs the subsidy of support. Other times it is because the supported spouse has failed to take reasonable steps towards self-sufficiency.
Some clients ask us how they might be able to increase their spousal support subsidy. The same material change of circumstances threshold applies; sometimes because the supported spouse has lost his or her job and income, other times because the cost of living has risen significantly from when the order was first made.
Just as with child support, spousal support orders can financially impact a party in a substantial way for many, many years, and it is important that you seek the assistance of an experienced family law attorney to secure the support you require or to protect you against unmanageable financial obligations. We have the experience and skills to safeguard your rights during the initial determination of support and later in a modification or enforcement proceeding.
Contact us or call (925) 465-2500 or (707) 398-6008 for more information or to schedule an initial consultation at Sparks Family Law, Inc. with attorney Gary D. Sparks.