Laws on Post-Decree Alimony Awards in California

by Teo Spengler
In California, either spouse may be ordered to pay the other alimony.

In California, either spouse may be ordered to pay the other alimony.

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Alimony ranks with child custody as being among the most emotional issues in a divorce. In years past, nearly all alimony recipients were women, but either spouse can be ordered to financially support the other if that spouse earns significantly more money. California judges use the factors and formulas described in state statutes to rule on requests for temporary and permanent alimony.

Alimony

In California, one spouse may be required to provide financial assistance to the other when they divorce. The same is also true when a domestic partnership terminates. In order to request alimony, one spouse must bring a legal action for annulment, divorce, legal separation or a restraining order based on domestic violence. The court may award alimony to be paid each month while the court case is pending, known as temporary alimony. The judge can also award post-decree alimony -- better known as long-term alimony -- to be paid monthly from the date the court signs the divorce decree.

Temporary Alimony

A divorcing spouse can request temporary alimony if the other spouse's income is significantly greater than her own. She begins the process in California by filing two court forms: Request for Order and an Income and Expense Declaration. Although a spouse can specify a monthly amount in the request, California courts typically use a formula to calculate the amount of the temporary alimony award. These formulas vary among counties. In Orange County, for example, the Superior Court allows temporary alimony in an amount up to 40 percent of the paying spouse's net monthly income, minus 50 percent of the recipient spouse's net monthly income.

Long-Term Alimony

Temporary alimony ends when the divorce decree is entered by the court; if long-term alimony is awarded, it begins at that time. A court determines whether long-term alimony is to be awarded and the amount of the award by weighing several factors set forth in California's Family Code. These factors include the length of the marriage; each spouse's marketable skills; extent to which one spouse assisted the other spouse in furthering his education; needs, obligations and assets of each spouse; and age and health of the spouses.

Duration of Alimony

California courts award long-term alimony with the goal of helping the supported spouse become self-supporting within a reasonable period of time. When the supported spouse becomes self-supporting, the obligation to pay alimony ends. If the marriage lasted less than 10 years, judges will often order alimony to last for half the duration of the marriage. If the marriage lasted longer than 10 years, the court will not set an end date for the long-term alimony award, but rather leave it up to the paying spouse to establish, at some point in the future, that alimony is no longer necessary.

Modification

Either party can ask the court to modify the alimony award at a future date if circumstances have significantly changed since the divorce decree was entered. Unemployment or a job change is often grounds for modification. The judge may also modify alimony if the supported spouse is not making a genuine attempt to become self-supporting. To bring a motion to modify the alimony order, the ex-spouse requesting modification must file similar forms to those used when alimony was first requested: Request for Order and an Income and Expense Declaration.