Spousal Support

Spousal support was a regular part of a California divorce settlement agreement for a very long time. Many spouses gave up full-time employment after marriage to raise a family, and alimony was a way to minimize the financial consequences of divorce at a time when one spousae was the primary breadwinner.

Although it’s not as common as it used to be, California courts can and will still order spousal support when appropriate, so that a lower-income spouse can maintain their pre-divorce lifestyle until they get the skills or training needed to do so on their own. Men can also apply for alimony, although the majority of those requesting it continue to be women.

As San Diego divorce lawyers, we’re often asked how long spousal support payments last in CA. Although every divorce is different, there are a few common factors that courts take into account when determining the duration of an alimony award.

Factors Impacting Spousal Support in California

While there’s no guarantee that a court will order one spouse to pay alimony to the other after divorce, in cases that appear to merit a support award, factors like the following are taken into account:

  • The duration of the marriage
  • The age, health, and earning ability of each party
  • The standard of living that the couple enjoyed while married
  • Whether the party seeking alimony sacrificed their own career goals to support their spouse’s
  • The payee’s ability to pay 
  • Each spouse’s financial assets and liabilities
  • Whether the requesting spouse can maintain gainful employment without harming the best interests of their children
  • Evidence of domestic violence
  • Any factor the court deems just and equitable

An experienced California alimony attorney can help you and your spouse negotiate an arrangement that meets the immediate and foreseeable financial needs of both parties. 

What Factors Impact the Duration of Spousal Support?

When determining alimony payments, a family court will consider the length of the marriage. In California, spousal support may be paid for up to half the length of a marriage that lasts 10 years or less. Unions that lasted longer than 10 years are considered ‘long term,’ and no specific duration will apply. If the parties were separated at any point prior to divorce, the length of each separation period may be taken into account when deciding on a support award.

There are two types of alimony typically awarded in a California divorce:

  • Temporary: This form of alimony is paid during the divorce process and ends once the judge awards a more permanent order. It is usually provided to a spouse in need of financial assistance during a divorce.

  • Permanent: This award is made after the divorce is finalized. It is important to note that ‘permanent’ doesn’t normally mean for life. For marriages lasting fewer than 10 years, it may be paid for up to half of the marriage length. (For example, four years for an eight-year marriage.) For marriages 10 years or longer, the court cannot eliminate spousal support but can set it at zero.

In the end, it’s impossible to predict how long spousal support payments will last in California. Your divorce attorney can assist you in negotiating an alimony arrangement that is fair and fits your financial circumstances.

Can I Modify a Spousal Support Order?

In general, a spousal support order can be modified unless both parties previously agreed that it may not be modified or revoked. In addition, awards of a fixed duration cannot be modified/extended once the deadline has passed.

The court may only modify your spousal support order if the party seeking modification can demonstrate a material change in circumstances since the last order. The change must be substantial and material, such as a decrease in income. In this example, the court may temporarily decrease the support payments until you find a new job.

Can I Terminate a Spousal Support Order?

As long as you can show a legally acceptable change in circumstances, you may be able to completely terminate your obligation to make alimony payments, unless the order was made non-terminable at the time it was issued. Conditions that may warrant a termination include:

  • A decrease in your income that is out of your control, such as serious illness 
  • You are over 65 and want to retire
  • Your former spouse has increased their income
  • Your former spouse has remarried

In addition, a support obligation automatically terminates on the death of the supported spouse. Their estate cannot enforce the alimony order to its own benefit if they die before the payment obligation ends.

What is a Gavron Warning?

A Gavron Warning is essentially a court notice advising supported spouses that they are expected to become self-supporting within a reasonable amount of time. The goal is to prevent them from relying indefinitely on their former spouse to support them.

The Gavron Warning gets its name from the case Marriage of Gavron, decided in 1988 by the Second Appellate District Court of California. The court ruled that before modifying or terminating a spousal support order, the supported party must be informed of their obligations to become self-sufficient. Around this time, courts began to move away from the idea of permanent spousal support orders in favor of the requirement that supported spouses make efforts to become self-sufficient.

Speak to a Spousal Support Lawyer Today

When you’re requesting or being asked for spousal support, it’s natural to wonder how long alimony payments last in CA. At the Law Offices of Renkin & Associates, we can answer your questions and assist you in obtaining, modifying, and terminating spousal support orders. For more information about our family law practice or to schedule a consultation, please contact us.

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