What Is Spousal Support? How Does It Work?

Regardless of the circumstances, divorce is an emotional and painfully difficult process that most people want to be over with as quickly as possible. Divorce can also be full of financial battles involving issues such as child support, division of assets and spousal support. 

What is spousal support? What is alimony?

Spousal support refers to payments that one spouse gives to the other after divorce. It recognizes each partner’s contribution to the marriage and helps the recipient achieve financial independence. The term “spousal support” can be used interchangeably with “alimony” when referring to post-divorce support. 

The spousal support payments are stipulated with the intentioned purpose of maintaining the standard of living that the former spouse has enjoyed during marriage and ensuring that he or she does not suffer a downgrade after divorce.

In California, spousal support is meant to provide financial means for the supported spouse to meet cost of living needs until such time that he or she becomes gainfully employed.

While the divorce case is ongoing, a spouse may ask for support to be paid and this is called a “temporary spousal support order”. On the other hand, it is called “permanent (or long-term) spousal or partner support” once a divorce becomes final.

How is spousal support established?

A court case is the first step in order for spousal support or alimony to be legally established. The court wields great discretion in setting the amount of alimony or spousal support. In the event that divorcing parties are unable to resolve this issue, their respective attorneys would need to put forth detailed evidence to the court about these factors:

Earning Capacity and Standard of Living During the Marriage

A judge takes into consideration what each spouse can earn to keep their standard of living at par with what they each had during the marriage. To do this, he must look into these considerations:

  • Marketable skills of the spouse who is to get support

  • Job market for these skills

  • Time and expense the spouse who will get support will need to obtain education or training to develop more marketable skills or to land a job

  • Extent the capacity to earn an income of the spouse who will get support was diminished by periods of unemployment during the marriage when he or she devoted that time to attend to domestic duties.

Length of marriage vs duration of spousal support

The duration of a permanent or long-term spousal support order is closely related to the length of marriage. In general, the law says that a reasonable period of time for a spouse getting support to be able to support himself or herself would be one-half the length of the marriage. But the law also gives the judge discretion over this given certain circumstances of each individual case.

Further, when a marriage is considered a “long-term” marriage, usually one that lasted 10 years or more, the judge may not set an end date to the spousal support or alimony. In such cases, the burden of proof is on the spouse who will pay to show that spousal support is not necessary anymore at some point in the future.

Here Is A Summary Description Of Spousal Support Options

Rehabilitative Alimony. This is granted for a specified time period. Usually, this is given to a spouse who elected to stay home to take care of the children..  

Lump-Sum Spousal Support.  This is a fixed amount paid and is often granted in lieu of a property settlement. It is paid out regardless of the recipient’s situation - remarriage, cohabitation or lack of financial support.  

Permanent Spousal Support. This financial support continues until such time that the recipient remarries or if the payor or the payee dies. In California, if a former spouse is found to be in a romantic relationship and cohabitating with that person, it may be grounds to seek for a decrease in spousal support.

Reimbursement Alimony. This type of support pays back one spouse for expenses incurred in helping the other complete an education or special training. This is usually granted when one spouse worked full-time in order to put his/her partner through school but is divorced shortly after.

The pros and cons of spousal support vary upon circumstances. Hiring a CFDA  when going through a divorce is a wise decision to help wade through the pros and cons of various financial options, and strive for the best financial outcome possible. 

Tags: spousal support, alimony, income

Filed Under: Divorce Tips, spousal support

This information is not intended to be a substitute for seeking legal advice from an attorney. For legal or tax advice please seek the services of a qualified attorney and/or qualified tax professional.

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