One of the most misunderstood concepts in divorce is the concept of alimony, or “spousal support” as it is officially referred to in California. There are probably a couple of reasons these misconceptions persist. One is that divorce is almost entirely based on state law, meaning every state’s rules on spousal support are going to be different, and California’s rules on spousal support are quite different from those in other states like Texas, where alimony is awarded in far fewer situations than in California. Thus, if you’re thinking about spousal support in terms of what your family members or friends experienced in other states (or, heaven forbid, what you saw in a movie or TV show), there is a good chance the same rules do not apply in California. Another reason is that, while many couples inherently get the concept that divorce means they will have to split their property amongst themselves, the concept of one spouse making regular payments to the other spouse following a break-up may be one that never crossed either spouse’s minds. Which brings us to one of the more common questions that potential payers and receivers of spousal support in California ask: Can a spouse who is currently working receive spousal support?
Spousal Support Is Often Awarded Even When Both Spouses are Working
To get straight to the point, yes, a spouse who is working and thus currently earning income may indeed be eligible to receive a spousal support award to be paid by the other spouse. Unlike some other states which award spousal support only when it is deemed financially necessary, California judges will award spousal support as a way of maintaining (at least partially) the standard of living enjoyed by the spouses during the marriage.
How Spousal Support Awards are Determined in California
While the income of a spouse requesting spousal support will be one factor used in determining how much, if any, spousal support should be paid following a divorce (and for how long), a judge will also look at other factors in making this determination, including:
- The requesting spouse’s other assets
- The requesting spouse’s monthly needs
- Whether the requesting spouse contributed to the supporting spouse’s education and car
- The supporting spouse’s earning capacity (this is different than actual income)
- The duration of the marriage
- The demands of raising children on each spouse
- The age and health of the spouses
- History of domestic violence between the parties
- The ability of the spouses to become self-supporting
- Any other factors the court deems just and equitable
Family court judges have wide discretion in choosing how much spousal support to award and for how long, and, in some cases, the cumulative amount of spousal support paid over the years can be greater than the total amount of assets divided in the divorce, especially where one spouse earns significantly more than the other and they hold relatively few assets.
Keep in mind that the spouses are at all times free to reach their own settlement agreement regarding spousal support which can then be approved by the judge if it is in line with California law, and negotiating such an agreement can be in both spouse’s interest.
Receiving Temporary Spousal Support During the Divorce
Both spouses entering into a divorce should also be aware that one spouse can request temporary spousal support as soon as the initial divorce filings are made, and this amount will have to be paid for the duration of the time it takes to finalize the divorce, which will generally last six months or longer. This figure is reached by putting both spouses’ incomes into a county-wide formula, and can also be quite significant.
Experienced Representation in Your California Divorce
Because the court has great discretion in awarding spousal support, it is important that you put your best argument forward and/or can negotiate a fair and just outcome that suits your needs. At Kearney | Baker, our Pasadena family law attorneys have 60 years of combined experience in reaching positive outcomes on behalf of our clients in divorce matters. Contact us today to schedule a consultation to discuss your circumstances.