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Alimony vs. Spousal Support in California


In California, the terms “alimony” and “spousal support” are often used interchangeably, but they have slightly different meanings. Alimony traditionally refers to payments made from one ex-spouse to another following a divorce to maintain the recipient’s standard of living. Spousal support, however, is a broader term that includes alimony but also encompasses temporary support provided during the separation process. While temporary spousal support aims to provide immediate financial relief, long-term alimony may be awarded to ensure the recipient’s continued financial stability. Understanding these distinctions can be helpful when navigating divorce proceedings.

Have questions about how alimony vs. spousal support in California can affect your financial situation? A financial advisor in your area can help.

Calculating Alimony in California

California law prioritizes the lower-earning spouse’s need to maintain a similar lifestyle post-divorce. And calculating alimony begins with evaluating each spouse’s income and needs.

The court typically begins with a formula, which involves subtracting 50% of the lower-earning spouse’s income from 40% of the higher-earning spouse’s income. This formula is also used to determine temporary spousal support.

For long-term spousal support, or alimony, the court also considers numerous factors beyond this initial calculation, such as the length of the marriage, each spouse’s age and health, their respective earning capacities, and their contributions to the household, such as child-rearing and homemaking. The court also considers the standard of living established during the marriage and the ability of the paying spouse to maintain both households.

Calculating Spousal Support in California

The duration of alimony vs. spousal support payments in California largely depends on the length of the marriage.

The state of California recognizes two types of spousal support: temporary spousal support and permanent spousal support, also known as alimony. Temporary spousal support is awarded during the divorce process to help the lower-earning spouse maintain financial stability until a final agreement is reached.

As mentioned above, temporary spousal support is often calculated using a guideline formula that involves subtracting 50% of the lower-earning spouse’s income from 40% of the higher-earning spouse’s income.

Duration of Alimony vs. Spousal Support in California

The duration of alimony or spousal support payments for a divorce in California largely depends on the length of the marriage.

For marriages lasting less than 10 years, spousal support is typically awarded for a period equal to half the length of the marriage. For marriages lasting 10 years or more, often deemed long-term, there is no set duration, and support may continue indefinitely or until the receiving spouse becomes self-sufficient.

It is important to note, however, that spousal support is not necessarily permanent, and can be modified or terminated under certain conditions. For example, spousal support typically ends upon the death of either spouse or the remarriage of the recipient spouse.

Either spouse can also request a modification if there is a significant change in circumstances, such as a substantial increase or decrease in income, remarriage, or cohabitation with a new partner. The court assesses these changes and determines if an adjustment to the alimony or spousal support amount is warranted.

Bottom Line

Whether you are the payer or the recipient, understanding how alimony vs. spousal support works in California involves consideration of various factors and legal guidelines. The divorce process can be long and complex, and depending on your situation, seeking professional advice can be essential. A financial advisor can provide valuable insights into managing alimony payments and planning for financial stability post-divorce. Additionally, legal counsel can ensure that all agreements comply with California law and protect your financial interests.

Financial Planning Tips for Couples During (and After) Divorce

  • A financial advisor can help you create a financial plan and set goals for financial security. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can have a free introductory call with your advisor matches to decide which one you feel is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • Alimony and spousal support can help someone with little to no earnings make ends meet. But these payments aren’t guaranteed, and someone on the receiving end can be in a tricky position if their former spouse fails to pay. Reaching financial stability, while not always easy, can help you avoid these difficult situations.

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