Is Spousal Support Mandatory in California?

Is Spousal Support Mandatory in California?

No part of getting a divorce is easy, but spousal support is one of the most highly contested issues in the process. Spousal support is an important issue for both the lower-earning and higher-earning spouses, and it can be difficult to understand the complicated particulars.

Hiring an experienced Pasadena divorce attorney can be very helpful in coming to an agreement that leaves everyone satisfied.

What is Spousal Support?

Spousal support, also known as alimony, is court-ordered payments paid by the higher-earning spouse to the lower-earning spouse during the divorce and afterward. In California, spousal support is gender neutral and is based on the financial situation of the couple. These payments provide financial assistance to the lower-earning spouse, helping to maintain the standard of living they were accustomed to during their marriage. There are two different kinds of spousal support in California:

  • Temporary spousal support is paid for a short, predetermined amount of time, such as during the divorce process
  • Permanent spousal support is considered long-term financial assistance and can sometimes be paid until the dependent spouse remarries or dies

Spousal support is often ordered when one spouse makes significantly less money than the other, as they primarily took care of any children and household responsibilities, especially if they turned down career opportunities and wouldn’t be able to easily return to the workforce.

Is Spousal Support Mandatory in California?

The court doesn’t always order spousal support in California. Many factors are considered, including the age, health, income, assets, and debts of both spouses, as well as the duration of the marriage and the custody arrangements of minor children. In addition to considering both spouses’ current earning ability, the court considers the potential for the lower-earning spouse to become financially independent.

How is Spousal Support Determined in California?

A common guideline for determining temporary spousal support in California is 40% of the high earner’s monthly income minus 50% of the low earner’s monthly income. However, this formula is not one-size-fits-all, and the judge may determine a more appropriate amount given a couple’s specific circumstances.

If the couple can’t come to an agreement themselves, a judge determines spousal support. Judges are required to consider a wide variety of factors, including:

  • Each spouse’s needs based on their pre-divorce standard of living
  • Each spouse’s ability to maintain that standard of living
  • The length of the marriage
  • The age of each spouse
  • The health of each spouse
  • Child custody arrangements
  • Each spouse’s debts and assets
  • Allegations of domestic violence
  • Any other factor the court deems relevant

Spousal support isn’t always determined by a judge. Sometimes a couple can come to an agreement on spousal support themselves outside of court, sometimes with the help of a mediator or an attorney, and the judge can order spousal support in the amount agreed upon by the couple.

How Long Does Spousal Support Last in California?

Many factors go into determining the length of spousal support in California, and there is no set minimum or maximum length of payments. Spousal support payments are meant to maintain the lower-earning spouse’s usual standard of living for a reasonable amount of time until they can be financially independent. A reasonable amount of time can look different in each situation.

Generally, for marriages that lasted less than 10 years, a reasonable amount of time is considered half the length of the marriage. If a marriage lasted 8 years, then spousal support payments would be ordered for 4 years. However, spousal support can be shortened or extended based on each couple’s unique circumstances.

Marriages lasting more than 10 years are considered long-term marriages in the state of California, and spousal support payments may be ordered if the lower-earning spouse requires it and the higher-earning spouse can pay. This is especially common with older lower-earning spouses who may be unable to work due to age or illness.

Regardless of other factors, spousal support also ends when the dependent spouse dies or remarries. At the age of 65, the higher-earning spouse may also retire and is no longer obligated to pay spousal support.

How Can You Modify Spousal Support in California?

Unless the original spousal support agreement was made to be unmodifiable, a judge can change the amount or terms of spousal support in California.

If circumstances have changed such that one party believes the spousal support payments should be modified, they can file a formal request with the court. It is also possible to end spousal support payments if a judge deems them no longer necessary.


Q: What is California Law on Spousal Support?

A: In California, spousal support is paid by the higher-earning spouse to the lower-earning spouse in an amount determined by a variety of factors, including each spouse’s income, debts, assets, and the length of the marriage.

Q: Can You Waive Spousal Support in California?

A: Yes, if both parties agree, it’s possible to waive spousal support in California. However, it should be noted that once spousal support is waived, this agreement cannot be changed later.

Q: How Can I Avoid Paying Spousal Support in California?

A: There are multiple ways to avoid paying spousal support in California, including signing a prenuptial agreement or proving your spouse is cohabitating with someone else. Perhaps one of the most important is choosing an experienced divorce attorney to help you navigate the divorce process.

Q: How Many Years Do You Have to be Married to Get Spousal Support in California?

A: There’s no minimum length of marriage to qualify for spousal support in the state of California. In any divorce, the lower-earning spouse may qualify for spousal support. However, if you were not married for a long time, it’s less likely the lower-earning partner will be awarded permanent spousal support, but they may still receive temporary spousal support.

Whether you are a higher-earning spouse or a lower-earning spouse, there are many complexities to spousal support laws in California. Khalaf Law Group can help you calculate, modify, or pursue termination of spousal support. Contact us online today.

About Ted Khalaf

As you maneuver the difficult process of divorce and custody, it is essential that you are supported by a team of legal experts well versed in California specific Divorce and Family Law. For well over a decade, Khalaf Law Group have been serving clients across Southern California in all areas of Divorce and Family Law. With an exceptional track record of courtroom successes, Khalaf Law Group take great pride in providing their valued clients with the knowledge and information they require to maintain peace of mind and a positive outcome in their case.

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