When you separate and seek a divorce in California, not only will you likely be living apart and independent from a spouse for the first time in years, but you may be asked to pay spousal support (also called alimony) to your spouse, or you may consider seeking spousal support from your spouse. In California, spousal support can be awarded to either a husband or wife (as well as those in same-sex marriages) and will be awarded to maintain the standard of living that the couple enjoyed in the marriage. Given that spousal support awards are often in the thousands of dollars monthly (in addition to any child support payments or distributions of property), a critical question for both the spouse potentially paying support as well as the spouse receiving it is for just how long such support will be ordered pay.
Half the Length of the Marriage is Common, But Not Always Ordered
In general, it is common for judges to award that spousal support payments be made for roughly half the length of the marriage. Thus, if a couple was married 10 years, a judge may well order spousal support for five years. For significantly longer marriages, a judge may order spousal support to be paid indefinitely.
That said, a paying party may later request that the judge terminate the spousal support obligation on the grounds that the receiving spouse’s financial circumstances have changed such that payment is no longer justified.
Half the length of the marriage is just a common practice, however, and judges are not beholden to follow that pattern. They look at a wide variety of factors based on the arguments presented by both spouses’ attorneys (e.g. the financial needs, obligations, income sources and income potential for each spouses, as well as other factors such as the standard of living in the marriage and each spouses’ contributions to the marriage) and have wide discretion in both the amount and duration of spousal support that they can order.
Spouses Can Reach Their Own Agreement On Spousal Support Duration
In most cases, spouses can work together to reach a spousal support arrangement that they both believe is fair with respect to their own financial circumstances and in light of what a judge might order under California law.
Remember that duration is just one aspect of a spousal support award, and the monthly amount awarded could be a far more important consideration, e.g. 10 years of paying $200 a month is much less onerous than 2 years of $3,000 a month.
By allowing your attorney to reach a mutually beneficial agreement with the other spouse regarding all aspects of a divorce - including property distribution and matters affecting the children - you can avoid the uncertainty, hassle, and expense of having a judge make this decision for you.
Temporary Spousal Support
In addition to the spousal support that is awarded as part of your dissolution order in California, one spouse can request that temporary spousal support be paid during the course of the divorce itself. This request may be made at the very outset of the divorce proceeding.
Judges typically will simply feed each spouse’s income into a countywide formula to reach a temporary spousal support amount. This can be quite high and both spouses are encouraged to work with attorneys in considering temporary spousal support and whether reaching an agreement at the outset may be more beneficial to both parties.
Get Answers to Your California Spousal Support Questions
At Kearney | Baker in Pasadena, we represent spouses through all aspects of the dissolution/termination process, including seeking or responding to requests for temporary spousal support and spousal support following a divorce. To schedule a consultation regarding any questions about spousal support in California, contact one of the family law attorneys at Kearney | Baker today at 626-768-2945.