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How much will I pay/receive in alimony in California? (Spousal Support)

Updated: Apr 24

Whether you think you might have to pay spousal support or you are expecting to receive it, read below to learn the basic outlines of how it works in California in 2020.


Whether you pay or receive alimony, called spousal support here in California, depends on if you are the higher earning or lower earning spouse.


The court generally steps in and orders spousal support when one spouse is on an uneven financial footing compared to the other spouse, and we have two types of spousal support – temporary and permanent.


Temporary is pretty temporary. It is only awarded for the duration of the divorce proceeding itself, and terminates at the conclusion of the divorce. It is also fairly easy to estimate. There are spousal support calculators online that let you punch in a few variables and get pretty close to an accurate result. Remember, this is for the temporary portion only.


[Disclaimer rough approximations only – see an attorney to discuss your specific circumstances]


Punching in some rough numbers with no variables, we see that if one spouse earns $100k and the other earns $40k, the higher earning spouse will be paying around $790 a month in temporary support. It the higher earning spouse earns a quarter million dollars a year and the lower earning spouse earns zero, the calculator estimates a payment near $5,100.


So like I said, when the divorce starts, usually the attorney for the lower earning spouse will file a request for temporary spousal support and a judge will schedule a hearing to discuss it. If it is awarded, it probably will look something like the numbers you will get out of an online spousal support calculator. Of course a good attorney can turn things more in your favor.

So that’s temporary spousal support, but what about after the divorce. How much will the court order in permanent spousal support?


Well first of all permanent spousal support isn’t exactly permanent. The intention is for the lower earning spouse to have enough money for their basic needs, and to ensure that their lifestyle remains consistent. Unlike the temporary spousal support calculation, there is importantly NO guideline that family court judges use. They may look to the amount in the temporary order as a guidepost, but there are in fact fourteen other factors that they are required to consider before making a decision.


And here they are.


a. How do the earning capacities of the spouses compare?


b. Did the lower earning party support the higher earning party in getting educated?


c. Can the higher earning party afford to pay spousal support?


d. What are the respective needs of the spouses?


e. What are the existing assets and debts of each spouse?


f. How long was the marriage?


g. Can the lower earning spouse earn more money?


h. What is the age and health situation of the spouses?


i. Was there domestic violence?


j. What will the tax consequences of spousal support be to both spouses?


k. How much hardship will the spouses have to through with or without spousal support?


l. How long will it take for the lower earning spouse to be self-supporting?


m. Is one of the spouses an abusive criminal?


n. Any other factors.


This is a big list of hard to pin down items. Some of them are extremely vague like “how much hardship” and “any other factors.” Obviously there is a ton of room to argue about these. Good attorneys create convincing narratives that show how their clients’ interests must be protected by the court. Bad attorneys churn hours, waste time and annoy judges.


So, how much will you receive, or pay, in permanent spousal support? I don’t know, it depends.


But, I might be able to tell you how long the so-called permanent spousal support payments will go on for.


Like everything, this can vary based on individual circumstances, but if your marriage was for less than ten years, you will probably have a spousal support order that lasts half the length of the marriage. This is supposed to be a reasonable amount of time to transition from married life to self-sufficient single life.

If your marriage lasted more than ten years, it is likely that the judge will not set an end date at all. It is presumed that this type of spousal support order will go on nearly indefinitely, unless there is a significant change of circumstances for either party.

That is the general overview of it. Recognize that there is a lot of gray area and room to argue in these situations, and a skilled local attorney can definitely keep you and your kids on the right side of the judge. Call Christopher Marshall Law for an evaluation of how we can best protect your interests.


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