Understanding the Basics of Alimony

Spousal support, maintenance, and alimony all refer to the same concept: one spouse paying another after a divorce takes place. For people who are required to pay alimony to their ex-spouse, the idea is usually a frustrating one. Alimony exists to provide help to low-earning spouses, or individuals removed from the workforce while caring for a household and/or children to make the transition to a self-supporting lifestyle. In recent years, alimony has grown less common as judges offer it in fewer cases, and when it is offered durations are often short. In California however, an exception to this trend exists in divorces where the marriage has lasted for more than ten years. In these circumstances, alimony can be automatic unless the earning capacities of the spouses are highly similar.

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How Does Alimony Work?

When the court orders an individual to pay alimony, they will be required to give a specific amount of money to their ex-spouse on a monthly basis, up to a certain time. This time could be:

  • When one of the spouses dies

  • When a significant event—such as retirement—takes place, thereby convincing a judge to modify the payment amount

  • When a judge determines that the receiving spouse has not made sufficient effort to transition – at least partially, to a self-supporting lifestyle

  • When children no longer require a parent to be at home full-time

  • When the receiving spouse remarries

  • When a date arrives that was set by the judge in court

Typically, in most divorce procedures you will have the opportunity to come to an agreement with your spouse about the amount of alimony to be paid, and the duration of the payments. If a couple cannot come to an agreement regarding alimony, then a court will set the terms on their behalf. Unfortunately, this often means dealing with a costly and time-consuming trial.

Calculating Alimony in California

The laws and rules of alimony in California are applied in almost every case concerning divorce. Whether it’s a long-term marriage of more than ten years, a short marriage, a case regarding individuals of high income or low – divorce alimony laws will influence the length, complexity, and settlements within a case. Regardless of the State, setting the right amount of alimony to be paid is a complicated matter, which requires judges to consider a wide range of factors, including:

  • Whether an alimony amount would allow an ex-spouse to continue with a similar lifestyle to the one experienced during marriage. In divorce law, this is “the standard of living” consideration.

  • What the reasonable expenses for living may be for both parties involved.

  • How much money each person on a monthly basis could reasonably earn.

  • The length of the marriage.

  • The physical condition, age, and financial condition of the spouses.

The Duration of Spousal Support

When calculating alimony in California, it is not only the amount of support that must be considered, but also how long payments will continue. Generally, the duration of alimony in California ties directly to the length of the marriage. When a marriage in California lasts for less than ten years, courts typically don’t order support for longer than half of the duration of the marriage. On the other hand, the court may not set a definite termination date for alimony in marriages that lasted for longer than ten years. The ten year rule allows for both spouses to retain the right to indefinitely request modification unless both parties specifically agree to a termination date.

Although a number of attorneys and courts will refer to spousal support as “permanent”, it’s unlikely that a judge will order true permanent support – even in marriages lasting longer than ten years. California courts require spouses seeking support to make the effort to become self-supporting, and those that claim inability to work must support such claims with evidence. Truly permanent alimony is for spouses who cannot become self-supporting as a result of disability or age.

The Impact of Alimony

Although there are numerous different types of alimony available depending on the purpose for which support is ordered, all alimony seeks to serve the same purpose: alimony acts as a flexible financial tool for couples in the midst of a divorce procedure. It can offer some tax advantages for individuals that help to improve the wellbeing of both spouses, and ensures that a low-earning spouse is cared for when a marriage ends.

Do you think that alimony is an important part of the divorce procedure? Do you believe that the calculation of amounts and durations is fair, and do you believe that longer marriages demand higher levels of support?

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