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Family Law Specialists*

Steve Fernandez and Mark Karney are Certified Family Law Specialists* 

There are many contentious issues that can come up when you are getting divorced. Often, these include child custody, child support, property division, alimony, and spousal support. Of all of these, issues concerning alimony and spousal support seem to be the most controversial and are more likely to end up in court before a judge.

What is the Difference Between Alimony and Spousal Support?

In all actuality, there is no difference between the two terms. Alimony and spousal support are the same thing. Alimony is a more dated and archaic term that means the ex-husband or ex-wife maintains the lifestyle of their former spouse after marriage for a certain amount of time.

Spousal support, while meaning essentially the same thing, is a more gender-neutral term. The definition does not mention wife or husband. Rather, it incorporates the idea of a payment from one ex-spouse to the other after the marriage for a required amount of time. In California, it is most often referred to by the courts as spousal support.

What is Spousal Support?

In general, the higher-earning spouse will be required to pay the lower-earning spouse some form of monetary relief both during and after their divorce. The qualifications for spousal support differ by state and a judge usually makes the final ruling on how much and for how long support will be given.

There are three common types of spousal support that can be requested and awarded. These three kinds of support are options in most states.

The first is temporary spousal support. This is a regular payment made by one spouse to another during the divorce proceeding. It ends when the divorce is settled and permanent spousal support, if any, is granted.

Permanent spousal support is also referred to as long-term support. This amount is usually paid to the lower-earning spouse to help them maintain a lifestyle that is comparable to the financial standard of living that was established during the marriage. While it is long-term, it may not be forever.

A judge can limit the length of how long the support will be given. However, any support will stop if the lower-earning spouse remarries or if either of the former spouses passes away.

Finally, there is rehabilitative alimony. This is granted when one spouse stopped or significantly lowered the amount of time they worked during the marriage. Usually, this was done as a way for one parent to be the primary care-giver of children in the home.

There is an expectation that the spouse will eventually find work again and not depend on their former spouse to pay all their expenses after the divorce. However, this money helps them transition to their new life and helps give them time to find substantial work.

What is Spousal Support in California?

California recognizes temporary, permanent, and rehabilitative spousal support. For temporary support, judges usually use a standard calculation to come up with an amount of payment. Local court rules vary by county on how these calculations will be made.

A judge rarely uses standard calculations when it comes to awarding permanent spousal support. Instead, the judge will look at factors defined in California Code Section 4320. Some of these factors are:

  •     Length of the marriage
  •     Age and health of each person
  •     What each person makes at their jobs, if they have one
  •     What each person contributes to any children
  •     Whether getting a job for the unworking spouse would be detrimental to a child
  •     If both adults made the decision for one parent to stop working to stay home
  •     Shared and separate property and debts
  •     If one parent sacrificed money or time to help advance the other’s education or career
  •     Whether there were any incidents of domestic violence in the marriage.

Rehabilitative spousal support may also be awarded in California for certain circumstances. This is usually awarded to the lower-earning spouse to help them finish education or work training. The support will end once they can financially support themselves.

California also offers two additional types of spousal support. First, there is lump-sum spousal support. This is offered instead of a property settlement. This means that the lower-paying spouse would get one large sum of money rather than dividing certain marital property.

Finally, there is reimbursement spousal support. This is intended to be a payment from one former spouse to another to help that spouse reimburse costs for training and education programs. The intent of this is to help the lower-earning spouse be able to further their skills and obtain substantial work that will make them financially independent.