Purpose of Spousal Support
In general, alimony, or spousal support, is awarded in California when one spouse is in need of financial support and the other spouse is able to pay. Its purpose is to ensure that the lesser-earning spouse is able to transition from married to single life in a way that does not put her at economic peril. For example, if one spouse stayed at home during the marriage and reared the children while the other spouse worked and financially supported the family, the non-working spouse may need financial support for a period of time after the divorce to obtain the education and skills necessary to enter the workforce and become self-sufficient.
Factors That Influence Alimony Award
To determine whether a spouse is entitled to support, the proper amount and how long the award should last, the court evaluates several factors. These include the length of the marriage; the financial needs and earning capacities of both spouses; the parties' ages and health; debts and assets of both spouses; the ability of the receiving spouse to secure employment and become self-sufficient; and the ability of the obligated spouse to pay. For marriages of less than 10 years, it is customary for California courts to issue spousal support awards up to half the length of the marriage. If a marriage lasted longer than 10 years, the court has discretion in setting the end date.
Eligibility for Welfare
California operates several social welfare programs that provide assistance to needy persons and families in the state. These include cash, medical and food assistance. To receive these benefits, an applicant must first qualify by demonstrating financial need. The applicant must disclose all sources of income, including spousal support. If the applicant's total income falls below acceptable limits, and she meets all other requirements, she will be approved. However, the benefits she receives may be reduced by the amount of alimony she receives.
California permits divorced spouses to return to court and modify an alimony award if circumstances have changed since the order was put in place. Changes may include a loss of employment or reduction in income for the paying spouse, death or disability of one of the parties, and remarriage of the recipient spouse. If alimony is changed in any way, and the recipient spouse is receiving welfare benefits, she must report this change in income, whether an increase, a decrease or termination, to social services since it may affect her continued eligibility or the amount of benefits received.