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Spousal Support Information


Certified Family Law Specialists for Spousal Support Issues

Under California law, the marital relationship imposes a duty of mutual support on the spouses.  Spousal support, or alimony, is designed to maintain the standard of living that existed during the marriage.  Litigating the issue of spousal support can be tricky and the advice of an attorney skilled in this area may be crucial.  While a hearing or trial on the issue of spousal support may be short, the effect of the court’s orders can last for a long time.  As a result, it is important to have an expert on your side to protect your rights and interests.

Types of Spousal Support

There are two types of spousal support: temporary and permanent.

Temporary Spousal Support

Temporary spousal support is a support order that exists after a petition for divorce or legal separation has been filed, but before a final judgment of divorce has been entered.  The court generally considers each party’s needs and ability to pay when setting the amount of temporary spousal support.  The exact calculation for the amount of spousal support the court will order can be generated by a computer program that weighs the different factors considered by the court, including each party’s net income, deductions, tax filing status, self-employment income, and so forth.

Permanent Spousal Support

Permanent spousal support refers to a support order that exists after a judgment of dissolution has been entered.  California law outlines a number of different factors that the court must consider in determining permanent spousal support, including the following:

-length of the marriage;

-parties’ earning ability;

-parties’ ability to pay;

-ability of the supported party to seek employment without interfering with the interest of the children;

-parties’ needs;

-age and health of the parties

-marital standard of living;

-parties’ educations;


-whether there has been domestic violence; and

-any other factors that the court determines are equitable and just.

Because the court considers each party’s income in determining the spousal support order, the court may impute income in cases in which one spouse does not work or refuses to work.  This means that the court will attribute income to a spouse who is not working for the purposes of determining spousal support based on that party’s earning capacity.  Either party may request a vocational evaluation to determine the unemployed spouse’s ability to work and job prospects.

If the court sets permanent spousal support, it will also determine how long the supporting spouse will have to pay spousal support.  The duration of a permanent spousal support order generally depends on the length of the marriage.  Because the court is given considerable discretion in ordering permanent spousal support, the assistance of an attorney is helpful to defend your rights and ensure that any award of spousal support is fair.  Our experienced spousal support lawyers will help explain your rights and obligations concerning spousal support and will help you navigate through this difficult time.

Post-Judgment Modification and Enforcement

Even after a final judgment in a divorce case, there may be ongoing procedures to modify and enforce a previously issued judgment.  Our attorneys have experience in handling all types of post-judgment proceedings and can help you to determine whether the judgment in your case may be modified as well as assist you ensuring that you judgment is enforced properly.

A post-judgment modification action occurs where a party to an existing judgment seeks to change a provision of the judgment.  A party seeking a post-judgment modification of a spousal support order must file an Order to Show Cause, or OSC and demonstrate a change of circumstances justifying a change to the original order.  While there is no formal definition of what constitutes a change of circumstances, some courts may consider any of the following a change of circumstance justifying a court-ordered modification of a previous order:

-the supported spouse is cohabitating with a person of the opposite sex;

-loss of job or increase or decrease in earnings;

-expiration of a child support order based on the emancipation of minor children;

-increased needs for support;

-deterioration in health of either party;

-domestic violence between the parties occurring post-judgment;

-acquisition of college or post-graduate degree; and

-new spouse or registered domestic partner.

You should note that even though a change of circumstances may have occurred in the past, in most cases, a court ordered modification will not take place retroactively. This means your new support payments will begin with the new order and you may still be responsible for any delinquencies that occurred prior to the new order becoming effective.

If is often necessary to enforce court orders because the other party is not in compliance, is late on making a court ordered payment or is in default of court orders.  Our experienced attorneys will help you enforce court orders and collect on your family law judgment.  There are many tools our attorneys utilize to force compliance with court orders, including filing requests for sanctions and contempt of court, filing and recording liens, filing injunctions and complaints in probate court if the obligor is a trust or estate beneficiary, garnishing wages and levying accounts.  Also, interest accrues on unpaid judgments in most cases, so you may be entitled to interest on any unpaid support.

Our attorneys have experience with enforcement proceedings and will help you collect on family law judgments.  We also offer contingency fee agreements in certain cases, in which you will not be required to pay any attorneys fees up front.

Ending Spousal Support

Even a court order for permanent spousal support is not literally “permanent”.  California law provides that the supported spouse should become self-supporting within a reasonable period of time.  Therefore, in addition to determining the amount of spousal support, the court will determine how long the supporting spouse will have to pay spousal support.

The duration of the support order generally depends on the length of the marriage.  For marriages lasting less than 10 years, the court will generally award spousal support for half the length of the marriage.  For marriages lasting more than 10 years, the court will not set a date for the termination of spousal support unless the parties agree otherwise.  Instead, the parties will be required to return to court at some time in the future to determine whether the spousal support obligation will continue.  Alternatively, the court may also make an order that spousal support will terminate on the happening of a certain event.

California law also provides that spousal support terminates upon the death of either spouse or remarriage of the supported spouse, unless the parties have a written agreement providing otherwise.

DISCLAIMER: The content of this website is intended as legal information only and should not be construed as legal advice.  The content of this website is a summary of the law only.  It may not contain a complete statement of the law.  You should contact an attorney if you seek specific legal advice or assistance.