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How does alimony work in California?

The more money a couple has, the more complicated their divorce is likely to be. This is especially true when one spouse earns significantly more than the other.

In these instances, is likely that the higher-earning spouse may have to pay spousal support (also known as alimony) to the other, at least for a period of time. Here are a few things you should know about how spousal support works in California.

What is spousal support?

The purpose of spousal support is to allow each party to enjoy a standard of living similar to what they had during the marriage. To that end, a high-earning spouse may have to provide financial support to an ex with comparatively limited earning power.

The longer the spouses have been married to each other, the more likely it is that spousal support will be required. Courts also look at whether one spouse sacrificed his or her earning power to help the other succeed, for example by staying home to take care of the children and home so the other could invest more time and energy into work.

Spousal support payments are taxable to the receiving spouse and deductible by the paying spouse, so long as each person files a separate tax return.

There are different types of spousal support

Much like each marriage is different, so is each divorce. California courts may award several different types of spousal support, depending on the unique circumstances of each case. For example, alimony might be paid:

  • Temporarily, to provide support while the divorce is pending
  • For a relatively short period of time while the receiving spouse works on getting the skills and education necessary to earn a sufficient living on their own
  • For a longer period of time, usually based on the length of the marriage

Almost every spousal support order has a set end date. Alimony payments can end early if one spouse dies, or if the receiving spouse remarries.

How is Spousal Support Calculated?

California law governs how much alimony is paid and for how long. Some of the factors that influence that decision include:

  • The ability of each party to maintain the standard of living to which they are accustomed.
  • The contribution of each spouse to this lifestyle
  • The ability of the supporting spouse to make payments
  • The needs of each spouse based on the marital standard of living
  • The assets and obligations of each spouse
  • How long the couple was married
  • The age and health of each spouse
  • Any history of spousal or child abuse
  • Any tax consequences that either spouse will face
  • The ability of the payee to become self-sufficient

If you're facing divorce and have concerns about paying spousal support, discuss those with your lawyer as soon as is reasonable. Together, you can work out a plan to help you achieve your desired outcome.

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