How Much Will I Need to Pay in Spousal Support?

California Spousal Support Law

If you and your spouse are contemplating divorce, you may be required to pay spousal support. If you earn a substantial amount more than your spouse does, and you have been married for a significant time, you may be ordered to pay alimony. However, the courts generally do not require alimony if the spouses earn approximately the same amount.

As with most other issues in a divorce, you and your spouse can negotiate and come to a personal agreement about the amount and length of time spousal support will be paid. If you cannot agree, the court will make the determination. Unfortunately, that means a hearing with attorneys, and that can be costly.

Duration of Spousal Support

In California, the length of the marriage determines the duration of spousal support. If the marriage lasted fewer than 10 years, generally a court will not require support for longer than half the length of the marriage. For a marriage that lasted 10 years or longer, generally, the court will not set a specific end date for spousal support, and both spouses retain the right to ask the court to modify the terms.  Naturally, every case is different and you should seek out an attorney to discuss the specific facts of your case.

While attorneys and courts sometimes refer to spousal support as permanent after the dissolution of a lengthy marriage, this does not necessarily meant that alimony will be paid for the duration of one’s life. California courts require the spouse who seeks support to make an effort to become self-sufficient. Long-term alimony orders may gradually decrease over time to a nominal amount. And generally, spousal support can be modified and reduced over time.

Calculation of Spousal Support

In California, the purpose of temporary alimony is to maintain the financial status quo as much as possible. A court has wide latitude in ordering spousal support; however, in California, many courts use formulas to calculate temporary spousal support. For example, a court may determine an amount by subtracting one-half of the lower earner’s net income from 40% of the other spouse’s income, with adjustments for child support and tax consequences.

The purpose of alimony after a divorce decree is to help the supported spouse maintain a standard of living similar to the marital standard. However, that spouse must seek to become self-supporting. Before awarding spousal support, the court will take into account numerous factors, including each spouse’s ability to earn income and will consider the following:

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  • The marketable skills of the supported spouse
  • The job market for those skills
  • Any time or expense the supported spouse requires to acquire education or training for employment or enhanced employability
  • The extent to which periods of unemployment due to domestic duties during the marriage have impaired the supported spouse’s present or future earning capacity

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The courts may also consider other factors as well, such as any history of domestic violence, the marital standard of living, the health and age of both parties, and other factors that should be discussed with an attorney.

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