Alimony in California is called “spousal support.” When a married couple divorces after building a lifestyle together, a court may require the higher earner—whether the husband or the wife— to assist the lower earner in maintaining that lifestyle for at least some period of time. A judge in California may award temporary—or “pendente lite”—support during divorce proceedings, as well as support after a divorce is final. Spousal support orders generally direct one spouse to pay the other a specified amount periodically for a predetermined period of time. Support can also consist of a single lump-sum payment. Sometimes spouses can agree between themselves on the terms and conditions of support payments. A court will uphold an agreement as long as it meets legal requirements, even if the agreement provides for a complete waiver of support to a lower-earning spouse.
The duration of spousal support in California is often tied to the length of the marriage. After a marriage of less than 10 years, a court will not usually order support for longer than half the length of the marriage. If a marriage has lasted 10 years or longer, the court generally won’t set a definite termination date for support at the time of the divorce; both spouses retain the right to request modification indefinitely, unless they specifically agree to a termination date, or the court expressly terminates support at a later hearing.
The amount of spousal support is based on California divorce law section 4320:
(a) The extent to which the earning capacity of each party is sufficient to maintain the standard of living established during the marriage, taking into account all of the following:
(1) The marketable skills of the supported party; the job market for those skills; the time and expenses required for the supported party to acquire the appropriate education or training to develop those skills; and the possible need for retraining or education to acquire other, more marketable skills or employment.
(2) The extent to which the supported party’s present or future earning capacity is impaired by periods of unemployment that were incurred during the marriage to permit the supported party to devote time to domestic duties.
(b) The extent to which the supported party contributed to the attainment of an education, training, a career position, or a license by the supporting party.
(c) The ability of the supporting party to pay spousal support, taking into account the supporting party’s earning capacity, earned and unearned income, assets, and standard of living.
(d) The needs of each party based on the standard of living established during the marriage.
(e) The obligations and assets, including the separate property, of each party.
(f) The duration of the marriage.
(g) The ability of the supported party to engage in gainful employment without unduly interfering with the interests of dependent children in the custody of the party.
(h) The age and health of the parties
(i) Documented evidence of any history of domestic violence, as defined in Section 6211, between the parties, including, but not limited to, consideration of emotional distress resulting from domestic violence perpetrated against the supported party by the supporting party, and consideration of any history of violence against the supporting party by the supported party.
(j) The immediate and specific tax consequences to each party.
(k) The balance of the hardships to each party.
(l) The goal that the supported party shall be self-supporting within a reasonable period of time. Except in the case of a marriage of long duration as described in Section 4336, a “reasonable period of time” for purposes of this section generally shall be one-half the length of the marriage. However, nothing in this section is intended to limit the court’s discretion to order support for a greater or lesser length of time, based on any of the other factors listed in this section, Section 4336, and the circumstances of the parties.
(m) The criminal conviction of an abusive spouse shall be considered in making a reduction or elimination of a spousal support award in accordance with Section 4325.
(n) Any other factors the court determines are just and equitable.