If you are in the process of filing for a divorce in Kern County, you probably have quite a few questions about spousal support. This blog is intended to explain the factors that affect spousal support decisions as well as the difference between permanent and temporary alimony.
What is Alimony?
Alimony, also commonly referred to as spousal support in California, is payment from one spouse to another after they file for divorce. A written agreement that requires the paying spouse to make their payments to support the other spouse needs to be filed with the court before payments are made. This helps to ensure there is no dispute about the payments.
Who Pays Spousal Support?
During divorce proceedings, typically a judge will determine which spouse is responsible for paying alimony in California. When making that decision, the court will weigh a few different factors including:
- The length of the marriage
- Each spouse’s earning capacity
- Each spouse’s needs, based on their standard of living during the marriage
- Each spouse’s debts and assets
- Each spouse’s age and health
- Whether there was a history of domestic violence against a spouse or children
- The supported spouse’s ability to become employed without impacting the care of the couple’s children
- Tax status and impact a divorce and spousal support will have
- Role each spouse played in the educational or career development of the other spouse
- The paying spouse’s ability to pay alimony and for how long
- Any other factors the court chooses to consider
To award alimony, a judge must find that one spouse has a financial need and that the other spouse has the ability to pay.
How Long Does Spousal Support Last?
It depends on the length of the marriage. In California, any marriage that is 10 years or longer is considered a “marriage of long duration” or “a long term marriage.” In long term marriages, the final divorce Judgment will generally provide for spousal support until the death of either party, supported spouse’s remarriage or further order of the court, whichever occurs first. This means that unless one of the parties passes away or the supported spouse gets remarried, spousal support will continue until the supporting spouse takes the supported spouse back to court to modify or terminate his or her support obligation. In California, family law courts expect supported spouses to become self-supporting within a “reasonable period of time” which is generally one-half the length of the parties’ marriage. This, however, does not mean that in long term marriages, the courts cannot order support for longer than or less than one-half the length of the parties’ marriage. In contrast, in marriages that are less than 10 years, spousal support will generally only last one-half of the length of the marriage. In other words, if you were married for eight years, you can generally expect to pay spousal support for four years.
The spouse who is requesting alimony in California can do so as soon as the date of the divorce filing. In California, spouses are able to request the temporary alimony pending their divorce trial and permanent alimony at the time of their divorce trial.
Permanent Alimony vs. Temporary Alimony
Temporary alimony, which is based on a temporary spousal support guideline, is a payment from the supporting spouse to the supported spouse who earns less or no money. Temporary alimony ends when the judge finalizes the divorce. At that time, typically, a permanent alimony award will be put in place. Essentially, temporary alimony is an order for support during the divorce proceedings. The purpose of temporary alimony is to preserve the status quo in order to try and keep some semblance of what the couple had financially while they were married.
How is temporary alimony calculated?
California divorce laws allow the court to determine the temporary spousal support request by using a guideline calculator. The calculator enables the court to get a fair look and consideration of the needs of both parties and their ability to pay. Each County in California has adopted its own temporary spousal support guideline. Unlike permanent alimony, temporary alimony, as the name suggests, is just a short-term solution.
Depending on the length of your marriage, permanent alimony is pretty standard procedure in Kern County divorce courts. In California, permanent alimony is also called permanent spousal support, post-judgement spousal support and long term support.
Figuring out permanent alimony in California is more complicated than calculating temporary spousal support. The court must list and consider each factor listed in California Family Code 4320 to determine the length and amount of alimony. These factors include the standard of living during the marriage, income, spouses needs and health and so on. Permanent alimony is typically a lower than temporary alimony.
Just because it is called permanent alimony it does not mean it is a lifetime award. In some permanent alimony cases, a judge will put a termination point on the file. A spouse that is receiving support is expected to get back on their feet and support themselves eventually. Of course there are instances when a supported spouse just may not be able to care for themselves financially or come close to what their standard of living during the marriage was. Some of those instances may be:
- The marriage was more than 30 years long
- The financially dependent spouse is age 50 or older
- The financially dependent spouse is in poor health, handicapped or has a limited earning potential
- The supported spouse gave up their career to raise the couple’s shared children full-time
This is a warning that alerts the supported spouse they are expected to become self-supporting (barring the above special or similar circumstances). The Gavron Warning gets its name from a landmark California case. In that case, an ex-wife received support in the form of permanent alimony. The spouse was not employed. Six years into the payments, the paying spouse argued that his ex-wife had ample time to become self-sufficient. The courts then modified the spousal support arrangement and viewed the supported spouses failure to gain employment as a change in circumstance. So, the burden shifted to her to prove that she did, in fact, need additional support. Today, the Gavron Warning is a way for the courts to warn the supported spouse that they need to make efforts to become self-sufficient and if they don’t, their alimony payments can be discontinued at some time in the future.
Now let’s look at some other circumstances in which permanent alimony can be terminated :
- The supported spouse gets remarried
- Death of the supported spouse or supporting spouse
- The predetermined length of support expires
- Any change in circumstances of one of both of the parties that impacts the need or ability to pay spousal support
It’s important to remember that just because it is called permanent alimony, does not necessarily mean it is written in stone until the end of time. Permanent alimony can be modified or terminated, unless of course there is language in the divorce settlement that specifically states the alimony is non-modifiable.
If you are in the process of filing for a divorce, we hope this guide can help you sort through the differences between temporary and permanent alimony and understand how the legal process works. Contact us with your divorce or family law needs. Our attorneys are experienced, compassionate family law specialists available to help you understand your rights and navigate you through the divorce and spousal support process.