Los Angeles Spousal Support Attorney

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Divorce is stressful, life-altering, and emotional without working through a spousal support settlement or litigating spousal support in the courtroom. A skilled Los Angeles spousal support attorney at Fernandez & Karney can bring clarity to the situation and ensure your spousal support order is fairly executed.

Spousal support, sometimes called spousal maintenance or alimony, can be the most contentious part of a Los Angeles divorce. Both spouses are concerned with their post-divorce finances, how the final divorce settlement will affect their future standard of living, and what effect alimony may have on their future taxes. This is understandable.

The Los Angeles spousal support lawyers at Fernandez & Karney are respected in the legal community and focused on providing you:

  • Professional and dedicated family law representation
  • Unique strategies to fit your legal goals
  • Practical and honest legal advice
  • Large firm resources with boutique firm service

Fernandez & Karney genuinely cares about you and your family law matter. If you have questions regarding spousal support, divorce in general, or a spousal support modification, speak with a Los Angeles family law attorney at Fernandez & Karney. Attorneys Mark Karney and Steve Fernandez are Certified Family Law Specialists with over fifty years of combined experience.  

Call us at (310) 622-9434 for a free consultation to find out how we can help you.

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How a Los Angeles Spousal Support Attorney Can Help You

Spousal support dramatically impacts all aspects of your future, whether you are the payor or the payee. Before you begin any spousal support negotiations in Los Angeles, it is imperative you understand California’s spousal support statutes and how they apply to your circumstances.

Should your case qualify for spousal support, it may benefit you to negotiate a support payment with your spouse rather than go before the court. Fernandez & Karney’s experienced spousal support attorneys can advise you of the best legal action to take once your case begins.

Our spousal support attorneys will build a strong, trial-ready spousal support case on your behalf regardless of your position. Our Certified Family Law Specialists will provide you with competent, skilled legal support from start to finish of your spousal support matter, whether it is an initial determination of support or a modification proceeding.

Fernandez & Karney will also:

  • Uncover hidden assets
  • Retain experts to value complex assets
  • Serve as a buffer between your spouse and their attorney
  • Attempt a fair and reasonable spousal support settlement before litigation
  • Collect and prepare documentary evidence to logically support your position
  • Present your case before a judge if necessary

Reach out to Fernandez & Karney to schedule a complimentary consultation with a spousal support lawyer in Los Angeles. We look forward to meeting with you to discuss your circumstances and spousal support concerns.

Understanding Spousal Support in Los Angeles

After separation, the court may order temporary spousal support to maintain the parties’ status quo as they go through the divorce process  Or permanent spousal support based on the circumstances of each party along with:

  • The standard of living enjoyed during the marriage
  • The respective needs of each party
  • The ability of the supporting spouse to pay

There are fourteen statutory factors the courts is required to consider when making a permanent spousal support order. Ultimately, the decision to order spousal support, at what amount, and the duration of that support, is at the court’s discretion.

Types of Permanent Spousal Support in Los Angeles

Permanent spousal support comes in different forms in California, depending on the purpose for which it is ordered. Examples of permanent spousal support include:

  • Rehabilitative support. This is paid until the receiving spouse becomes self-supporting
  • True permanent support. The only “permanent” spousal support, it continues until the death or remarriage of the recipient spouse
  • Reimbursement support. When the recipient spouse is reimbursed for the educational or training expenses of the other
  • Lump-sum support. This is often in lieu of a property settlement. It would not stop upon remarriage or cohabitation of the recipient spouse

Rehabilitative spousal support is the most common form of support ordered in California divorces.

Factors the Los Angeles Court Considers When Determining Spousal Support

Under California Family Code §4320, the amount and duration of spousal support are determined by weighing the following factors:

  • Whether the spouse requesting spousal support significantly contributed to the education, training, license, or career position of the other
  • Whether each spouse will be able to maintain the same standard of living established during the marriage, based on their earning capacity
  • The separate property of each spouse
  • The obligations and assets of each party
  • How long the marriage has lasted
  • The supporting party’s ability to pay spousal support, based on income, assets, standard of living, and earning capacity
  • Whether the spouse requesting spousal support can work without significantly interfering with the interests of minor children in their child custody
  • The age of both spouses
  • The health of both spouses
  • Consideration of emotional distress that resulted from domestic violence
  • Tax consequences to both spouses if spousal support were to be awarded
  • Hardships suffered by both spouses
  • Whether the spouse seeking spousal support could become self-supporting within a reasonable amount of time (general one-half the length of the marriage)
  • Other factors the court considers equitable

Since the court is granted the latitude to consider any equitable factors, it has broad discretion when making spousal support orders.

Is There a Ten-Year Rule in the State of California?

Many people believe California has a “ten-year rule” regarding spousal support, entitling any spouse in a marriage of at least ten years to receive permanent support. This is not the case.  

Instead, a marriage of ten years acts as a milestone. It denotes the court’s ability to revisit the issue of spousal support in the future.

Generally, a spousal support award in California is half the length of any marriage lasting fewer than ten years. In marriages over ten years, the duration of spousal support is not fixed. Rather, the burden is on the paying spouse to prove spousal support is no longer necessary at some future date. 

While the court has great discretion regarding the duration of spousal support, the purpose of the support is for the receiving spouse to gain the education or training needed to become self-supporting. Therefore the term permanent spousal support is not meant as a lifetime order in the majority of divorce cases.

Truly permanent support is only ordered when the receiving spouse can prove an inability to work or become fully employed.  

Long-term spousal support orders usually reduce with time to a nominal amount. Although the court will not set a termination date for spousal support, it can select a date by which the receiving spouse must apply for an extension.

Are Alimony and Spousal Support the Same Thing in Los Angeles?

Spousal support and alimony are essentially the same things. Alimony is an outdated term for spousal support. Some states use the term spousal maintenance.  

California uses the term “spousal support” to describe payments made by either spouse to another following a divorce, regardless of sex. The financially stronger spouse pays the other until they can be self-supporting and live in essentially the same manner as when married. 

Do All Los Angeles Divorces Include Spousal Support?

There is a common misconception regarding how often spousal support is ordered in divorce. As most divorces are not litigated in court, it is difficult to determine how many California divorces include spousal support orders. 

So long as a spousal support agreement meets California’s legal requirements, the court will likely uphold that agreement even if that agreement includes a waiver of support by the lower-earning spouse.

Some estimates place the number of spouses who actually receive spousal support at a mere 10-15 percent.  

How is Temporary Spousal Support Calculated in Los Angeles?

In California, temporary support may be awarded during the divorce. Temporary spousal support is known as pendent lite support.

Once the needs of the requesting spouse and the ability of the paying spouse to pay are assessed, a formula is used to determine temporary spousal support. For example, Santa Clara County deducts 50 percent of the income of the lower-earning spouse from 40 percent of the income of the higher-earning spouse when calculating temporary spousal support.

Adjustments for tax consequences and child support are factored into the equation, returning what the court believes to be a fair amount of temporary spousal support. The marketable skills of the spouse requesting spousal support will be taken into consideration along with the current job market for those skills. 

The court will also consider the potential time and expense the spouse requesting spousal support will need to acquire the necessary education or training for employment.

Enforcement of Spousal Support in Los Angeles

Spousal support orders are just that, orders of the court. As such, they are enforceable and have consequences when ignored or disobeyed.  

The easiest way to prevent and avoid future issues with the enforcement of spousal support is to immediately file an earnings assignment with the court clerk. Once a divorce is final, an earnings assignment, or wage garnishment, can legally require a paying spouse’s employer to deduct spousal support from any take-home pay.  

While earnings assignments are not required, there are available in every California divorce. They only require the necessary paperwork. If desired, earnings assignments can be put on hold at a later date and then reversed if needed to ensure timely payments.

Once an earnings assignment is filed and served on an employer, that employer has ten days to begin taking spousal support from a paying spouse’s check. Otherwise, they are liable for the missed payment.

When a paying spouse falls behind on support payments or an employer fails to deduct support payments from a paycheck, the receiving spouse may seek help from the court. The court may reinstate an earnings assignment or even hold an employer liable for noncompliance. It will be up to the receiving spouse to document all missed payments for the court’s accounting.

Outside of an earnings assignment or court remedy, there is also the local child support agency. These agencies help with both child support and spousal support enforcement.  

Child support agencies have tools that prove quite effective in moving non-paying spouses to come current on their support payments, such as:

  • Reporting all late and missed payments to major credit reporting agencies and hurting non-paying spouse’s credit scores
  • Notifying the U.S. State Department, who can place a hold on a non-paying spouse’s passport when they owe $2,500 or more in support payments
  • Putting a lien on a delinquent non-paying spouse’s land or house so that if the property is sold, profits can’t be collected on the proceeds until support payments are made
  • Suspending any non-paying spouse’s state-issued licenses, including any driver’s, business, or professional licensure
  • Using the Franchise Tax Board to collect money from bank accounts, real property, deposit box cash, or even vehicles a non-paying spouse owns
  • Notifying the IRS to take support payments out of tax refunds before they issue anything to a non-paying spouse
  • Taking the support owed out of a non-paying spouse’s unemployment benefits or workers’ compensation
  • Claiming a non-paying spouse’s lottery winnings

There are cases where an ex-spouse purposely withholds spousal support and intentionally disobeys the order of the court. In these cases, it may be necessary to file a contempt action in court.  Contempt of court is a serious charge with criminal consequences, including jail time.  

Jail is usually the last resort when reasonable efforts at collection fail to produce results.

Modification of Spousal Support in Los Angeles

There are severe consequences to the non-payment of spousal support. Therefore, it is advisable to seek a solution to a support issue before it becomes a problem. In California, there are ways to modify a spousal support order if circumstances change.

If temporary support payments become unmanageable, these are modifiable during the divorce case. These are based on calculable formulas. Therefore a significant income change could dramatically impact the temporary spousal support amount.  

The court would have to approve any modification of temporary spousal support. Generally, a job loss or major illness will qualify.

Some permanent spousal support orders are not modifiable except under extraordinary circumstances. For instance, spouses sometimes agree to non-modifiable spousal support settlements in a final divorce decree. Other times, spousal support may be in lieu of property and non-changeable.

A modifiable order will still require a material change in circumstances to support a court-ordered change in a spousal support obligation. Without such a change, an agreement may be possible with a receiving spouse to change support payments to accommodate the paying spouse. Any agreement can be submitted to the court and made into an order.

Material Change of Circumstances

If a receiving spouse refuses to negotiate a modification, the paying spouse must prove to the court that a material change of circumstances has occurred since the initial spousal support order.  

A material change of circumstances may include:

  • Involuntary unemployment or a reduction in income
  • Disability, illness, or injury that prevents employment
  • A loss of assets or an increase in debt-to-income ratio
  • Retirement from employment
  • Failure of a business
  • Cohabitation or remarriage of the support recipient
  • Gainful employment or increase of income of the support recipient
  • Inheritance of the support recipient.

Sometimes remarriage or cohabitation automatically terminates spousal support orders. Outside of designated changes, it is the paying spouse’s responsibility to prove a material change in circumstances before any reduction in spousal support payments.

Frequently Asked Questions About California Spousal Support

Most divorcing spouses have questions regarding California’s spousal support laws. Some of the most frequently requested legal information is as follows: 

  • The paying spouse is entitled to retire at age sixty-five in California. They cannot be forced to work to continue paying spousal support beyond that age. If a paying spouse is forced into early retirement due to a health issue or other issue beyond their control, this could result in an end to spousal support payments;
  • If the paying spouse receives a significant raise after the divorce, this raise cannot be considered in awarding additional spousal support;
  • If the paying spouse has experienced a serious reduction in income due to involuntary termination or a health issue, the amount of spousal support could be either reduced or terminated;
  • If the paying spouse operates their own business and the business earnings have significantly diminished, the amount of spousal support obligations may be reduced;
  • Unless the amount of spousal support paid has an annual “cap,” then in some cases, regular bonuses or overtime income may be factored into the amount of spousal support award;
  • If the receiving spouse is awarded a substantial raise, the paying spouse may be able to legitimately have the amount of spousal support reduced or even terminated;
  • If spousal support is paid to a spouse who appears to have no interest in becoming self-supporting, the paying spouse can ask the court to order a vocational assessment. Courts are also allowed to assign the receiving spouse a “fictional” income when they are purposely avoiding employment;
  • In the same vein, the receiving spouse may claim disability due to stress or depression, which prevents them from returning to work. While this could certainly be a valid disability, an Independent Medical Evaluation may be recommended to determine what type of employment is available to the receiving spouse;
  • The amount of spousal support may be determined in part by the assets awarded to the requesting spouse;
  • Declaring bankruptcy is not likely to result in the paying spouse having their spousal support obligations discharged;
  • If a spouse who is receiving spousal support is living with a new romantic partner, the paying spouse may be able to petition the court to lower or eliminate payments;
  • If the receiving spouse remarries, the obligation to pay spousal support will terminate.  However, the paying spouse may need to obtain an order to terminate any wage assignments; and
  • Barring a written agreement to the contrary, either spouse has the right to request a modification or termination of spousal support payments due to a material change in circumstances.

Spousal support could be the largest financial obligation incurred by a spouse during a divorce. It is vital that both spouses be proactive to ensure any spousal support ordered is fair and equitable.  The best way to do so is through your Los Angeles divorce attorney

It is your attorney’s job to ensure any spousal support is correct and protect your legal rights and financial future.

The History of Spousal Support

Prior to the advent of no-fault divorce, spousal support was directly related to marital misconduct or grounds for divorce. In other words, spousal support was to penalize a “guilty” spouse for breaking the bonds of matrimony. 

The no-fault divorce has moved states away from the idea that spousal support is a right or a punishment. Even so, spousal support is usually the last piece of the financial puzzle to be finalized during a divorce, after any child support order and asset division.

Some states place few limits on spousal support, while others make spousal support nearly impossible to receive. The state of California falls somewhere between these two extremes.  While lifelong spousal support is possible in California, it is the exception.

Speak to Los Angeles Spousal Support Attorney Today

Having an experienced Los Angeles alimony lawyer and Certified Family Law Specialist on your side will help you achieve a successful result in your case. Whether you are a supporting or supported spouse, our experienced family law practitioners will zealously advocate your spousal support claims. 

Contact Fernandez & Karney today to schedule your confidential consultation with a divorce professional.