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Spousal Support (Alimony)

In California, spousal support—also called alimony—is money paid by one spouse or ex-spouse to the other as part of a divorce or legal separation. Spousal support is not awarded in every case; it depends on the circumstances or mutual agreement of the couple. Having the assistance of a spousal support attorney can help ensure that you get a fair support arrangement.

Types of Spousal Support or Alimony in California

Temporary spousal support may be paid from one spouse to the other while a divorce is pending. Usually the spouse with a lower income receives payments from the other spouse according to a court order that lasts only until the divorce is final.

Rehabilitative spousal support and "bridge the gap" spousal support may be paid for a short term while the lower-earning ex-spouse becomes retrained, educated, or otherwise financially self-sufficient.

Lump sum spousal support may be awarded as part of—or instead of—a property division. This single payment is thought to compensate one spouse financially and is not dependent on whether he or she later gets a higher paying job or remarries.

Permanent or "long-term" spousal support may be included from one ex-spouse to the other in a divorce decree or divorce settlement agreement. If you have been married at least ten years, the court may order support that continues until the death or remarriage of the supported spouse. The goal is to restore the receiving (payee) spouse to a financial standard of living close to the one established during the marriage.

A party may be entitled a combination of these types of support, depending upon one party’s financial need and the other party’s ability to pay. 

Advice from an Attorney: What You Need to Know About Spousal Support

As with many aspects of your divorce, you and your spouse may agree on spousal support. But if you cannot agree, the court will decide whether to award spousal support, how much, and for how long.

Deciding whether to request or negotiate for ongoing spousal support, at all, is based on a number of considerations. Paying or receiving alimony creates a debtor/creditor relationship between you and your ex-spouse and leaves a lasting connection between you until the obligation for payments ends. Some spouses prefer to end their financial connection at the time of divorce, instead, by advocating for a property division that takes future needs into account.

Calculating spousal support is complex and very case-specific. A spousal support award is not based on detailed, specific guidelines like child support. Rather, the attorneys and court often must take an in depth look into the parties’ actual incomes and available assets, the marital standard of living, and other elements of the property division.

For tax purposes, spousal support is recognized as income and must be taken into account when filing federal income tax returns. Typically, the spouse who pays support may deduct the payments.

Spousal support orders can be changed under certain circumstances, including loss of a job, or any increase or decrease in the income of the supported party or even the party paying support.

Finally, if your ex-spouse stops paying, there are ways to enforce your spousal support order through the help of an attorney or the court. At the time of your divorce or separation, you and your attorney should consider the likelihood of future enforcement issues: if you fear your ex-husband or ex-wife won't pay over time, you may prefer an up-front lump sum support payment or a property division that takes your future financial needs into account.

If determining spousal support sounds complicated, that's because it is. But it's not impossible, and your best options can be made clearer with the help of an experienced attorney. At Shaffer & Associates, we have the benefit of years of experience offering honest and aggressive advocacy in both seeking financial support and defending spouses who are ordered to pay support. We know what factors to consider and what kind of arrangements are often considered equitable by California courts. We also believe that the best divorce attorneys don't go it alone when financial complexities are involved: when appropriate, we will work with professional appraisers, accountants, and actuaries to evaluate your situation.

Spousal Support in San Diego and the Surrounding Communities

Our attorneys assist with establishing, modifying, and enforcing spousal support orders in San Diego County and the surrounding communities, including Orange County, Riverside County and Los Angeles County. Contact Shaffer & Associates online or call (619) 595-3167 for a free case evaluation.

San Diego Bar AssociationSection of Family LawCalifornia State Bar Family Law American Bar Association Avvo Clients' Choice 2014