How to Calculate Alimony Following Separation in California
Alimony, more correctly called “spousal support” under California law, is often paid by the higher-earning spouse in a marriage to the lower-earning spouse after they separate.
The purpose of these payments is to ease the transition to independent lives without causing financial hardship to either party. Spousal support may begin during the separation process and usually lasts for a limited period, depending on circumstances.
Two spouses can calculate alimony, prepare a written agreement, and submit it to the court with the other documentation when filing for divorce — or one spouse can request that a judge decides if alimony should be paid and if so, how much and for how long.
When calculating alimony in California, many factors are considered besides the respective incomes of the spouses. Here’s a quick guide as to what you can expect from spousal support calculation.
The two types of alimony in California
The two main types of spousal support in California are:
1. Temporary support
This is provided to support a spouse before the couple divorces, while the legal processes are being worked through and until the divorce is final.
2. Long-term spousal support
Long-term spousal support is paid after the divorce is finalized, usually included as part of a final judgment in a dissolution of marriage or legal separation.
This type of spousal support is sometimes incorrectly called “rehabilitative alimony” because it is designed to ease the transition to a single life, where further education, training and work experience may be required for one spouse to become fully self-sufficient.
A judge will calculate an amount of support deemed to be fair and reasonable for both spouses and order it to be paid for a period of time after the marriage ends.
How do judges calculate spousal support in California?
All alimony in California is based on one spouse’s need for support and the other spouse’s ability to pay. Agreements must be fair and reasonable, and judges follow a set of guidelines for calculating the amount and duration of support payments.
Who pays spousal support?
Either spouse can request spousal support under California law. The matter is gender-neutral.
The basic consideration is whether one spouse needs financial support and whether the other spouse can afford to pay it. The higher-earning spouse is often required to pay alimony to the lower-earning spouse regardless of gender.
How is temporary alimony calculated in California?
The standard used for calculating temporary spousal support in California is based on what is necessary to maintain the standard of living that the couple was accustomed to during the marriage.
While there is an acceptance that the same living standards for both spouses may not be practical in two households in the long term, the idea is to maintain the status quo as much as possible at least until the divorce is final.
Temporary support is often calculated according to the following formula:
40% of the high earner’s net monthly income minus 50% of the low earner’s net monthly income.
For instance, if Spouse A earns $5,000 per month and Spouse B earns $2,500 per month, temporary spousal support might be calculated as follows:
- 40% of $5,000 = $2,000
- 50% of $2,500 = $1,250
- Temporary spousal support = $2,000-$1,250 = $750
How is long-term spousal support calculated in California?
Long-term spousal support requires extra consideration from judges because the consequences are longer-lasting.
Rather than using a formula to calculate alimony, judges typically consider a wide range of factors that are outlined in Cal. Fam. Code § 4320 before arriving at a judgment. These factors are:
- The extent to which the earning capacity of each party is sufficient to maintain the standard of living established during the marriage, taking into account all of the following:
- The marketable skills of the supported party; the job market for those skills; the time and expenses required for the supported party to acquire the appropriate education or training to develop those skills; and the possible need for retraining or education to acquire other, more marketable skills or employment.
- The extent to which the supported party’s present or future earning capacity is impaired by periods of unemployment that were incurred during the marriage to permit the supported party to devote time to domestic duties.
- The extent to which the supported party contributed to the attainment of an education, training, a career position, or a license by the supporting party.
- The ability of the supporting party to pay spousal support, taking into account the supporting party’s earning capacity, earned and unearned income, assets, and standard of living.
- The needs of each party are based on the standard of living established during the marriage.
- The obligations and assets, including the separate property, of each party.
- The duration of the marriage.
- The ability of the supported party to engage in gainful employment without unduly interfering with the interests of dependent children in the custody of the party.
- The age and health of the parties.
- All documented evidence of any history of domestic violence between the parties or perpetrated by either party against either party’s child
- The immediate and specific tax consequences to each party.
- The balance of the hardships to each party.
- The goal that the supported party shall be self-supporting within a reasonable period of time.
- The criminal conviction of an abusive spouse shall be considered in making a reduction or elimination of a spousal support award.
- Any other factors the court determines are just and equitable.
When judges issue spousal support orders, they will dictate the duration of support as well as how the payments should be made — often imposing an income-withholding arrangement with the payor spouse’s employer.
How long does spousal support last in California?
Temporary spousal support ends when the divorce is final but long-term spousal support is not bound by such rules.
The judge will consider what’s fair and reasonable in ordering how long the payor is liable to pay support to the recipient, bearing in mind that the goal is for the recipient to become self-supporting within “a reasonable amount of time.”
Often, this is taken to mean around half the length of the marriage, but this is not a hard and fast rule and judges can exercise considerable discretion with this matter.
Alimony stops when the recipient remarries or either spouse dies — unless the couple has specified differently in a written agreement.
Does California allow permanent alimony?
Permanent alimony is rare in California, even after long marriages of 10 years or more.
Judges may consider “indefinite jurisdiction” for long marriages. This means that the court can continue to make decisions about alimony matters and evaluate orders indefinitely, modifying them as necessary. But this does not mean that alimony will be “permanent”.
How do I end a domestic partnership in California?
In California, if the original spousal support calculation was made under circumstances that no longer apply, it may be necessary to modify the order by requesting a review with the court. This may become complex as modifications are only made when a substantial change of circumstances applies. Most applicants require assistance from a qualified family lawyer.
If you have any spousal support issues in California, the family attorneys at The Sands Law Group APLC can help. Contact us or call at 213-788-4412 today for a free 15-minute phone consultation about your case.