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What Type of Spousal Support Can You Face in California

Are you concerned about how alimony will work in your divorce? You’re not alone. Alimony, known as spousal support in California, is among the most contentious topics in most splits. Even amicable couples may have legal disputes about how much alimony one party should pay and for how long. 

Part of the problem is that several types of spousal support may be awarded during California divorces. The differences between these varieties are not always clear to divorcing couples, leading to unnecessary arguments and legal battles. If you’re preparing to end your marriage, keep reading to learn the different kinds of California spousal support orders that could be involved in your divorce decree.

Types of Alimony Orders in California

All spousal support is intended to protect lower-earning spouses from financial hardship after the end of their marriage. However, every marriage is unique, so the amount of support that’s necessary can vary significantly. As such, California recognizes four primary types of alimony orders that can be used and tailored to a couple’s situation:

  • Temporary Spousal Support: These orders require higher-earning spouses to pay support to the other party before a divorce is finalized. Most couples choose to separate their finances before the decree is issued, so this alimony ensures that neither person suffers while waiting for everything to be finished. The payments may stop when the split is completed or be replaced with one of the following orders. 
  • Rehabilitative Spousal Support: These payments are structured to help the recipient become self-supporting. Rehabilitative orders are flexible, and those a judge issues can take many forms. They are usually time-bound and may be tied to an educational plan, training, or career change for the recipient. The intention is that payments end once the recipient is financially self-sufficient.
  • Reimbursement Spousal Support: This is intended to reimburse the recipient for expenses incurred by the other party during the marriage. For example, if you supported your spouse and paid off their student loans while they pursued a medical degree, you could be eligible to receive reimbursement alimony if they go on to achieve a high-paying career as a surgeon.
  • Permanent/Indefinite/Long-Term Spousal Support: In rare cases, a judge or couple may decide on a permanent or indefinite spousal support order. These orders usually last until the recipient remarries, either party dies, or a post-judgment modification is issued. In most cases, permanent alimony is only awarded in long-term marriages, defined by California law as those lasting at least ten years. However, judges may also choose to award indefinite maintenance payments after shorter marriages according to their discretion. 

A single divorce may include more than one type of alimony order depending on the couple’s needs and finances.

Lump-Sum vs. Monthly Spousal Support Payments

Each type of alimony described above may be awarded as monthly or lump-sum payments. Most people are more familiar with monthly payments because they are usually easier on both parties’ budgets. These orders require the higher-earning spouse to pay the recipient on a set schedule, usually once a month. This structure allows the paying party to budget for the cost and ensures the recipient knows how much support they can expect.

However, some couples or judges opt for lump-sum payments instead. If couples have significant joint assets, this may be preferred for three reasons. 

  • It simplifies the process; the paying party only has to make a payment once. All income going forward will be theirs alone. 
  • It permits the recipient to budget the money however they want instead of waiting months or years to receive the entire amount they’re owed. For example, the recipient may use the lump sum as a down payment on a new home. 
  • It allows the couple to negotiate a property transfer instead of a cash payment. If the recipient would otherwise spend the funds on housing, they may choose to accept full ownership of the shared home as their lump-sum spousal support. 

Judges rarely issue lump-sum orders because of the burden it may place on the paying party. Still, they are valuable alternatives for high net worth couples who settle part or all of their divorce out of court. 

Negotiating Fair Spousal Support in California

Unlike child support orders, there is no strict formula or guideline for calculating alimony in California during or after a divorce. Instead, the state expects couples and family court judges to use their discretion when determining if and how much support to award. 

If your divorce is decided by a judge, the type and total amount of alimony awarded can be hard to predict. The judge will take many factors into account, including:

  • The length of your marriage
  • The contributions you and your spouse have made toward your relationship, household, and careers
  • Your respective ages and health
  • Your individual abilities to continue working or find new employment

Depending on these details and the judge’s opinions, the amount ordered may range from thousands of dollars a month to nothing at all.

If you’re concerned about this unpredictability, you may choose to negotiate alimony with your spouse instead. You, your spouse, and your attorneys can meet to discuss your needs, preferences, and financial situations. In many cases, developing a fair divorce settlement that includes support orders you can both accept is possible. 

Consult Experienced Marin County Alimony Lawyers

Alimony orders in California are complex and should be tailored to your specific situation. The best way to accomplish that is by seeking expert legal counsel from skilled California divorce attorneys like the team at Kaspar & Lugay, LLP. Our skilled lawyers are prepared to help you pursue fair spousal support orders and achieve the best possible outcome from your divorce. Get started today by speaking with a Marin County divorce lawyer.