Is Spousal Support Mandatory in California Divorces?

Alimony (also known as spousal support) is an agreement between divorcing spouses where the ex-spouse with better finances pays a monthly amount to the other spouse in order to help support a certain standard of living. California divorce courts are not required to order spousal support to either spouse.

Alimony decisions are not based on gender, age, or race. Other factors will determine whether the courts believe that alimony is necessary on a case-by-case basis, including:

  • If one of the spouses makes much more money than the other.
  • Marital standard of living’ is the lifestyle enjoyed by the spouses during marriage. Some judges may decide it is necessary to award alimony to allow both ex-spouses to maintain that standard of living.
  • The earning capacity of either spouse – their skills, health, work history, and education – may also play a role in determining the necessity for alimony.
  • The longer the marriage lasts before ending in divorce, the higher the chances that there will be a spousal support agreement.
  • And more.

If you’re worried about alimony, you need to understand that it is not automatic. Depending on the facts surrounding your situation, the judge may not deem it necessary. Few alimony agreements last forever, either. In fact, most have a set expiration date when they’re initially agreed upon.

Are There Ways to Avoid the Prospect of Alimony from the Start?

There are ways to plan ahead to avoid alimony payments. But if you’re already in divorce proceedings, it may be too late by now. Typically, the most surefire way to avoid the looming prospect of spousal support is to sign a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement when you get married.

Prenups are not romantic and, at a time when you and your newlywed spouse are celebrating your love for each other, can be difficult to imagine. But they are incredibly practical. And because many marriages sadly end in divorce these days, they can be a way to plan for the worst, just in case. If a prenup is in place, a divorce plan outlining whether there will be spousal support will be included.

Please note, however, that not all prenuptial agreements are enforceable in court. Some California divorce courts will dismiss a prenuptial agreement if they feel it is unreasonable. However, they might still be the most assured way of avoiding alimony payments before the threat presents itself.

Can a Divorce Lawyer Help Limit or Avoid Alimony Through Negotiations?

Family law cases like divorce proceedings can be among the most intense and stressful chapters of our lives. Depending on the grounds for divorce, such as infidelity, things could become even more emotionally exhausting. When negotiating the prospect of spousal support, remaining respectful, levelheaded, and decent to the other party is essential. Sometimes, this may feel impossible because of these high levels of stress and hurt feelings. For that reason (and an abundance of other reasons), it would be wise to retain professional counsel in the form of an experienced divorce lawyer.

If the judge feels that alimony is necessary, there may be no avoiding it. However, your divorce attorney can help defend your interests and negotiate for an earlier end date and lower monthly payments.

What Naturally Cancels Future Alimony Payments?

You may not be able to argue that alimony should be canceled simply because you wish it so. However, certain criteria may cancel alimony payments if you can prove their existence.

If you decide to retire, you may no longer be able to pay alimony, and the law should recognize this.

If the ex receiving spousal alimony remarries or begins cohabitation with a new partner, the alimony payments are no longer necessary.

Should your financial situation dramatically change for the worse – or should the financial status of your ex improve exponentially – you may be able to argue that the current alimony agreement is no longer fair.

If you come down with an illness or disability that prevents you from maintaining employment, you may have an argument for canceling alimony.

To know whether your situation meets the criteria for canceling spousal support, please contact the Law Office of Patrick O’Kennedy.

What Happens if You Refuse to Pay Court-Ordered Spousal Support?

You must pay if the court has determined that spousal support payments are necessary. Even if you have evidence that they should cease, you must continue to pay monthly until the court changes its orders.

When the court gives you an order, you have to follow it. Anything else is breaking the law, and the consequences could be most dire. If you refuse to pay court-ordered alimony, you could face serious fines, see some of your estate confiscated by the courts, and even receive jail time for contempt of court.

Schedule a Free Consultation with an Experienced California Family Law Attorney

Spousal support is not a guaranteed fact of every California divorce. However, depending on the circumstances, it can and does get ordered by family law judges occasionally. If you’ve been ordered to pay alimony to your ex-spouse, a skilled divorce attorney could help you negotiate lower payments and an early end date.

The Law Office of Patrick O’Kennedy has over two decades of experience practicing law in California, focusing uniquely on family law, divorce, and debt relief. Located in Orange and Irvine, California, our law firm offers reasonable rates and a free initial consultation to all prospective new clients.

Please call our law office at 714-701-6356 to schedule your free case evaluation.