What Are the Different Types of Alimony or Spousal Support?

Alimony, also known as spousal support, is not awarded in every California divorce case. Certain factors must be at play for a family law judge to order alimony payments.

There are two different primary types of alimony in California. The first, known as temporary or “pendente lite” spousal support, may be issued while a divorce case is ongoing. The purpose of temporary alimony orders is to maintain the financial status quo between the two divorcing spouses while they attempt to reach a divorce settlement or have a courtroom trial to settle their legal issues relevant to the divorce. The amount of temporary alimony awarded in divorce proceedings is generally calculated using formulas and computer software programs. These programs establish what is known as alimony guideline calculations. There may be county-specific or local regulations that determine how temporary spousal support is to be calculated, using the guidelines for amounts of alimony, and other legal factors. However, temporary spousal support is generally awarded to the lower-earner spouse during divorce proceedings.

The other type of alimony in California is permanent spousal support orders. The purpose of permanent alimony orders is to provide the recipient spouse with appropriate financial assistance based on several factors under the California Family Code. When ordering permanent alimony, a family law judge considers several factors, including the contributions of either spouse to the marriage, each party’s ability to maintain a certain quality of life, and the health and age of both soon-to-be ex-spouses.

One of the factors that plays into whether any spousal support is permanent or not is the length of the marriage. Permanent spousal support may last for ½ of the length of the time of the marriage if the marriage lasted less than a decade.

How is Alimony Calculated in California?

The rules for determining alimony payments in divorce cases differ depending on whether the judge deems it necessary to award permanent alimony or stick with temporary alimony orders.

Temporary alimony is calculated based on what the courts believe is necessary to help both spouses maintain a certain standard of living that was enjoyed during their marriage. Of course, it is difficult to maintain two households instead of just one, so it is often impossible for either spouse to maintain the same standard of living that was once enjoyed together. However, the idea is to help establish a certain status quo, at least as much as possible, until the divorce proceedings have been resolved.

Unlike some states, California does not use a calculator to determine spousal support in long-term or permanent alimony payment arrangements. Instead, family law judges decide how much to award in terms of alimony based on several factors, including the following:

  • Each spouse’s ability to earn enough money through employment to maintain a standard of living.
  • Each spouse’s age and health, be it physical or mental.
  • Each spouse’s basic needs, based on their standard of living and quality of life during marriage.
  • How long the marriage lasted.
  • Tax consequences for alimony payments.
  • The balance of hardships felt by either spouse.
  • The debts and assets, including separate property, of either spouse.
  • The paying spouse’s ability to provide financial support.
  • The recipient spouse should become self-supporting within a certain period of time.
  • The supported spouse’s ability to remain gainfully employed without interfering with childcare or child custody.
  • Whether the supported spouse contributed to the other spouse’s educational pursuits or professional career.
  • Whether there is a documented history of domestic violence or child abuse.
  • And other factors that a family law judge may deem relevant.

Does the Length of a Marriage Play a Role in Determining Alimony?

The length of a marriage may influence the need for long-term alimony payments. Short-term marriages, which are generally defined as marital unions that lasted less than a decade in California, may result in shorter durations for alimony payments.

For a short-term marriage, a family law court may deem it necessary to order alimony for a period of time equal to half the length of the marriage period. For example, if your marriage lasted six years, then long-term alimony may last for three years.

In long-term marriages, on the other hand, alimony payments may last much longer, potentially going on indefinitely. In divorce cases involving long-term marriages, the courts have the authority to order long-term or permanent spousal support.

Is California’s 10-Year Marriage Rule a Real Concept?

There is a common misconception that California has a ten-year rule, which establishes that if you’ve been married for ten years or more, alimony payments that occur after a divorce will continue permanently. This is partly because spousal support is often referred to as long-term or permanent alimony in California. However, it is not true that any length of marriage automatically means that alimony is guaranteed or that alimony will last forever.

That said, however, the 10-year mark does have a significant role in the implications of spousal support duration. According to the family code, the court has jurisdiction in divorce proceedings for the dissolution of marriages or legal separations of parties where the unions lasted for a long duration. Under the law, marriages of 10 years or more meet the legal definition of ‘long duration.’

What Might Change or Terminate Alimony?

Even if spousal support is ordered to continue for the long term, there are certain points where alimony payments could be modified or terminated. For example, if the paying party’s income decreases or if they lose their job and are no longer able to provide the financial support that is ordered, they can request spousal support modifications. Similarly, if the recipient party gets a promotion and an increase in pay, they may no longer need the alimony payments.

Additionally, unless it is written into the agreement stating otherwise, remarriage or death also ends spousal support obligations.

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Our law firm has extensive experience representing clients in complex family law cases, including alimony negotiations. We would be proud to represent your interests in pursuing the most satisfactory outcome for your case.

To learn more about our legal services, please get in touch with our California law firm to schedule your initial consultation today. You may reach us at 714-701-6356.