Unlike child support, there is no requirement that a court award spousal support (formerly known as alimony) in a divorce in California. The award of spousal support can be limited in duration, limited in amount or denied altogether, depending on the circumstances of each individual case.
In order to determine whether an award of California spousal support is appropriate the courts must consider the parties’ circumstances, looking to the standard of living established during the marriage, the needs of each party and the ability of one party to pay such support.
California state law requires a family court judge to consider 14 statutory factors when making a spousal support decision. While the statute outlines the factors and mandates that the court consider them, there is no test, calculation or formula to apply in determining the propriety of an award. Although each statutory factor must be considered, the court is not under any requirement to give each factor equal weight. As long as all factors are considered, the court maintains broad discretion in making its determination. [see: CA Family Code Section 4320-4326]
To reach a just and reasonable decision regarding California spousal support, courts must base their orders on the standard of living established during the marriage. They must then consider the following circumstances:
- 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: (a) 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; (b) 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 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.
- Documented evidence of any history of domestic violence between the parties, including, but not limited to, consideration of emotional distress resulting from domestic violence perpetrated against the supported party by the supporting party, and consideration of any history of violence against the supporting party by the supported party.
- 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. Except in the case of a marriage of long duration, a “reasonable period of time” generally shall be one-half the length of the marriage. However, the court’s discretion to order support for a greater or lesser length of time is not limited, based on any of the other factors and the circumstances of the parties.
- 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.
Spousal support can be modified and/or terminated after an initial order depending on the circumstances, the duration of the order or agreement of the parties.