California Divorce Law Regarding Alimony

By Anna Assad

California spousal support, or alimony, is designed to maintain one party in the divorce in the same lifestyle she enjoyed during the marriage. Spousal support is money paid by one spouse to the other in accordance with a court order issued during divorce or separation proceedings. State divorce laws set the court guidelines for spousal support awards.

Entitlement and Length

Unlike child support, California spousal support isn't automatically addressed in separation or divorce proceedings, and there are no set percentages. Upon the spouse's request, the court must decide if she's entitled to the support, and, if so, how much and for how long. According to the official website of California divorce attorneys Dishon & Block, courts typically set the duration of support for half of the length of the marriage if the marriage lasted under 10 years. For longer marriages, one of the parties must return to court to prove when support isn't needed any longer.


California laws direct the court to look at various factors when deciding a spousal support request. The income both parties make is reviewed, as the court must take into account the requesting spouse's ability to maintain her lifestyle and the other spouse's ability to pay. Debt acquired by the other spouse as a result of a property division might negate the requesting spouse's right to support, and her request is weighed against the standard of living the couple had together to ensure she's not overstating her financial needs. How long the two were married might be a factor, if the union kept the requesting spouse out of the workforce for an extended period of time. Other circumstances that a court considers include documented domestic violence and any other factors the court deems relevant to the request.

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Termination and Modification

The paying party has the right to petition the court to ask that the support award be lowered or ended, and the receiving party can ask for an increase. Even so-called "permanent" spousal support awards can be changed or ended in California. Modifications and terminations typically involve a significant change in the finances of one of the parties. State law also allows the paying party to ask the court to evaluate the receiving spouse's ability to work if she's been receiving support but has not yet found a job.


If the requesting spouse contributed to the education of the other spouse, increasing his ability to make money, she may be entitled to reimbursement in the form of spousal support under California law. A requesting custodial parent is given additional consideration in a spousal support case, because her ability to work might be restricted by the need to care for the children. In California, the judge may insert what is referred to as a "Gavron Warning" in the support award. Part of the California divorce laws, the warning instructs the receiving spouse to work toward supporting herself and allows the paying spouse to request support termination if the court finds no progress has been made toward that goal.

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