Separating from your partner is rarely an easy process. In the midst of things, most people look forward to the time when everything is over and they can simply stop thinking about their former partner. Unfortunately, for many people, that day may not come as soon as they hope. In California, there are several ways in which divorced partners may be ordered to support their ex for decades.
How California Keeps Divorced Spouses Financially Entangled
California Family Court’s primary goal is to protect vulnerable people, such as children or lower-earning spouses. While this is a worthwhile goal, it can also cause problems for spouses who earn more than their ex-partners.
The most common situation in which one partner ends up supporting their ex for decades or more is the result of California’s asset division laws. The state requires that all community assets, including businesses and intellectual property, are divided equally in the case of a divorce. Judges must take the potential future value of assets into account as well. As a result, many judges will simply split ownership of difficult-to-value property like patents or businesses between partners.
According to California law, this is a fair decision on paper, but most entrepreneurs and creators find it deeply inequitable. Most performers and business-owners dedicate a significant portion of their lives to creating IP and building up their companies. Their partners have only a tangential relationship to those creations. However, the division of assets can lead to these hard-working people supporting ex-partners who do nothing to contribute to the business. Any profits they make off these assets are immediately cut in half since the other half goes to their ex.
Even if assets aren’t split in a way that leads to one spouse funding the other, the state can still institute support orders that amount to something similar. Spousal support, or alimony, is often ordered in divorces where one partner earns significantly more than their ex. Spousal support is intended to help the lower-earning partner become self-sufficient without suffering in the meantime. Depending on your marriage’s length, this can be a short-term commitment, or the order may put “permanent alimony” into place.
California divides marriages into two categories, depending on how long they lasted. Short-term marriages are unions that lasted fewer than ten years. If a couple divorces after a short-term marriage, then courts follow a general rule of thumb where support orders last half the length of the marriage. A six-year marriage would likely lead to three years of support orders, for example.
On the other hand, long-term marriages last longer than ten years, and spousal support orders for these divorces do not have a distinct pattern. Instead, judges use their discretion to determine how long the support order will last. For longer marriages or older individuals, the judge may decide that the lower-earning partner will take many years to become self-sufficient, if ever, and award decades of alimony accordingly.
While child support is rarely intended to be a life-long commitment, it often lasts a decade or longer, even for healthy children. The point of child support is for the higher-earning parent to contribute to their child’s development until that child is an adult. If two parents divorce when their child is a baby, child support orders may be in place until that child turns 18 or graduates high school – nearly two decades.
If you have a child with a disability, it can last even longer. California courts can and do order parents to care for their adult, disabled children for the rest of the child’s life. If your former partner acts as your child’s caretaker, this can become a permanent order to support their household.
Methods of Avoiding a Lifetime of Payments
Just because it’s possible to end up paying for an ex-spouse’s entire life does not mean that it’s unavoidable. Several methods may be used to keep your assets under your control, depending on your concerns.
Adjust Business or IP Ownership
If you want to maintain your intellectual property or your business, adjusting how you structure ownership of these assets may be worthwhile. Forming a trust that owns your business can remove the company from among your marital assets. Working with a qualified business attorney can help you create an ownership and beneficiary structure that will keep you in control of your business without losing profits to your ex-partner.
You can also work with your partner during the divorce process to find an agreement that makes everyone happy. By working with a mediator, you can both come to the table with what you want out of the divorce and potentially come to an equitable agreement without unwieldy alimony requirements. However, this works best when your partner is willing to cooperate with you. Otherwise, it may be best to work with a private judge who will have more time to find a fair solution for your case instead of working through overloaded public courts.
Finally, to avoid serious child support orders, work to keep custody of your children. In general, parents who have joint or primary control of their children pay little to nothing in child support unless there is a significant income differential. Even then, child support is ordered based on the percentage of time each parent is responsible for the kids, so retaining custody will prevent judges from ordering insupportable amounts.
Keep the Fruit of Your Labors
If you’re leaving your partner, you likely want to make the cleanest possible cut. That doesn’t include paying them potentially tens of thousands of dollars every year just because you used to be married. You deserve to keep the results of your hard work.
If you’re concerned about potentially funding your ex for the rest of your life, you should reach out to a qualified divorce attorney today. They have the knowledge and experience to help you maintain control over your assets and avoid permanent spousal support payments. Begin the process of protecting your assets today with the team at Kaspar & Lugay.