Introduction to California spousal support and partner support

California judges have wide discretion to set alimony awards.

In California, whether an award of spousal support, often called alimony, is granted in a legal separation or divorce - or an award of partner support in a separation or divorce in a domestic partnership - can have significant affect on the lifestyles of the parties as single individuals going forward. This is true whether the person is the paying party or the recipient.

(References to divorce or spouses herein generally also apply to domestic partnerships or domestic partners.)

Sometimes the parties are able to negotiate an agreement in which alimony issues are resolved. Often negotiation is conducted through their respective attorneys or through alternative dispute resolution methods like mediation. The agreement (which may resolve other or all legal issues in the divorce) is submitted to the judge for approval and incorporation into a final court order in the divorce or separation.

If they are unable to agree on spousal support, the judge must decide whether to grant alimony as well as the duration and amount of an award.

A party may request temporary support during the trial, which is usually determined by local court rules. This award would end when the divorce is final, at which time any permanent or long-term arrangement would begin.

Judicial discretion

California judges have wide discretion in alimony determinations as compared with those in some other states. California statute provides that the judge must consider anything "just and equitable" as well as every item in this list:

  • How well each person will be able to maintain the marital standard of living considering their earning capacities, which are determined by marketable skills and the job market for those skills; if different marketable skills are required, how long it would take to get the requisite training or education to develop them; also the negative impact on earning capacity of unemployment during the marriage to carry out "domestic duties"
  • Contributions to each other's careers
  • Ability of supporting party to pay
  • Each party's needs considering the marital standard of living
  • Assets and liabilities of each
  • Marriage length
  • Whether a party who will have custody of a child can work without "unduly interfering" with that child's interests
  • Each of their ages and health
  • History of domestic violence
  • Tax consequences
  • Comparative hardship

Duration

To set the duration of alimony, the goal is that the supported party can support him or herself within a reasonable time, which is generally half the length of the marriage. However, in marriages of long duration (usually 10 years), the award must continue indefinitely, subject to termination in later proceedings if circumstances change. In all cases, the judge has discretion to order a different duration.

Special provisions limit or eliminate the ability of a spouse with a conviction for domestic abuse or violent sexual crime against the other to receive support, with some exception.

A party may later ask the court to modify the award if there is a change in circumstances, including cohabitation of the recipient with a new partner.

Alimony may terminate if a court order provides for this, if either party dies or the recipient remarries or registers a new domestic partnership.

From their offices in Vista and Del Mar, the family lawyers of Gavin & Dersch Law and Mediation assist clients throughout San Diego County with matters of spousal support and partner support as well as a wide variety of other family law issues using negotiation, mediation or litigation.