Solving Complex Family Law Issues with Creative Strategies

Orange County Spousal Support Lawyer

Alimony can come into play after a divorce, domestic separation, annulment, or domestic violence restraining order. California courts may enact a temporary spousal support order until your case finalizes, at which point they would issue a permanent or long-term spousal support order. Most support orders are paid on a monthly basis. You can also modify your spousal support order at a later date if either person’s circumstances change.

Spousal support is neither a right, a guarantee, a punishment for bad behavior, nor a consolation for tolerating mistreatment during your marriage. California is a no-fault divorce state, which means marital misconduct short of domestic violence will not affect any financial decisions. The only reason spousal support exists in California is to help both parties maintain the same standard of living after their marriage that they enjoyed during the marriage. This is a purely financial motivation, but it doesn’t stop the issues from getting personal or emotional.

Spousal support can become one of the most heavily negotiated and litigated parts of a divorce. The issue of alimony can carry heavy emotional weight since it affects both partners’ standards of living after a domestic separation. The stakes can get higher if one spouse is wealthier or has a significantly greater earning potential than the other.

Your case may be further complicated if you have a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement in place – or if one spouse helped pay for the education that boosted the other’s career. These types of issues require sensitive and competent counsel to handle properly.

At Moradi Saslaw, our Orange County divorce attorneys have an impressive record of courtroom victories and negotiated settlements in spousal support cases. Our lawyers can help you determine the appropriate amount and duration of alimony to protect your future.

How Is Spousal Support or Alimony Calculated in California?

California splits spousal support into two stages: temporary and post-divorce support.

  • Temporary spousal support or alimony refers to support paid by one spouse to another after separation but before your divorce is finalized. Generally, temporary spousal support is based on a state or county formula that takes into account each party’s income, earning capacity, tax status, and tax deductions. It is typically for a shorter period of time than post-divorce spousal support.
  • Post-divorce or “post-judgment” spousal support or alimony refers to support paid after your divorce has been finalized. These support orders can last for a specific length of time or may not have an ending date (sometimes the party requesting an end or change has to go back to the court and ask for it years later). California courts have wide discretion to determine the amount. Post-divorce support, sometimes called “permanent spousal support,” or “post-judgment” because it starts after your marital Judgment has been entered, automatically ends once either party dies or the supported party gets remarried. Either party can also request a modification of their spousal support order if their circumstances change.

The California Family Code describes the factors to consider when awarding spousal support. Generally, spousal support calculations use the standard of living established during the marriage as a “point of reference” when deciding whether alimony is appropriate.

Most Important Factors that Affect California Spousal Support

When determining who should pay post-divorce spousal support and how much is appropriate, California courts must consider all of the following circumstances:

  • How long the marriage lasted
  • The age and health condition of each spouse
  • The standard of living established during the marriage
  • The individual needs of each party based on the established standard of living
  • The actual marital expenses incurred on a regular basis
  • Each spouse’s financial resources, including separate property
  • Each spouse’s financial liabilities, debts, and obligations to support others
  • The state of each spouse’s career and all of their sources of income
  • The impact of the custodial parent’s employment on the needs of any minor children
  • Each spouse’s ability to be independently self-supporting
  • The financial ability of the supporting spouse to actually pay alimony
  • The supported spouse’s marketable skills and how they fare in the job market
  • Whether the supported spouse will need more education or training for employment
  • Whether the supported spouse took long periods of unemployment that hurt their future earning capacity to care for domestic duties during the marriage
  • Balancing hardships between the parties
  • The tax consequences of spousal support for each party
  • How much each spouse contributed to domestic duties during the marriage
  • How much each spouse contributed to the education and training of the other
  • Whether the relationship involves any incidents of domestic violence by either party
  • Any criminal convictions against either spouse
  • Any other relevant, just, and equitable factors

Spousal support orders or agreements executed before 2019 count as taxable income for the recipient and are tax-deductible for the paying spouse.

When cost-effective and appropriate, Moradi Saslaw attorneys will work with outside specialists to advocate for the fairest spousal support award for you. For example, our team may enlist forensic accountants to determine how much income is available for alimony. When dealing with a spouse who is not employed or earning at their full capacity, we can work with vocational specialists to determine their actual earning capacity and ask the court to treat the spouse as earning that income.

Because so many factors can affect the amount of spousal support, thorough and sound legal advice is critical. A knowledgeable divorce lawyer can help pinpoint the facts that make the biggest difference in your case. Your Orange County spousal support attorney should know how to highlight the issues that play the most to your advantage and minimize the ones that work to your disadvantage.

How Is Spousal Support Calculated in Long-Term Marriages?

For most marriages the last under 10 years, California courts offer spousal support with the goal that the supported party will “be self-supporting within a reasonable period of time.” A reasonable period of time is usually considered to be half the length of the marriage itself.

So if you and your spouse were married for 6 years, a reasonable time for the supported spouse to become independently self-sufficient would be 3 years. By this calculation, spousal support should only last 3 years. However, this is just a baseline measurement. Courts have the discretion to adjust this period of time if they decide that the facts call for it.

These calculations change when it comes to long-term marriages.

California’s Family Code considers any marriage over 10 years – calculated from the date of marriage to the date of separation – to be a marriage of long duration. What this means is that the courts do not have the power to put an ending date on spousal support.

According to California law, courts have the power to determine spousal support “indefinitely” for any marriage considered long-term. That means if you’re divorcing from a long-term marriage, an award of spousal support could last for the supported spouse’s entire lifetime. You could petition the court for modifications if your circumstances change, but a support order could last decades or more. If you must still pay spousal support when you retire, only your retirement investment income can be used to calculate the amount – not your retirement principal.

The 10-year rule is not set in stone, either. Marriages under ten years could qualify for indefinite spousal support if the facts convince the court it’s appropriate – for example, in cases of short marriages where one spouse was entirely financially dependent and took care of all the domestic duties for the duration. Marriages over ten years may not qualify for indefinite support if the spouses were actually separated for many of those years.

Tax Issues for Same-Sex Couples and Domestic Partners

Same-sex couples registered as domestic partners are entitled to support after they file a domestic partnership dissolution, similar to heterosexual marriages.

However, because federal tax law does not yet recognize or account for same-sex domestic partnerships, the spouse who receives support must pay taxes on it but the spouse who pays the support cannot deduct those payments from their taxes.

This is a critical distinction between divorce and domestic partnership dissolution because California affords rights to same-sex couples that are not provided by the federal government.

As a result, it’s important to consult with a lawyer who is familiar with the nuances of how California same-sex domestic partnerships work with federal laws. At Moradi Saslaw we take the entire picture into account, including your state and federal tax situation.

How to Modify Spousal Support Orders

Even permanent spousal support orders can be modified. Either party could petition the court to request a formal modification of the original support order.

A spousal support order modification may only be granted if you can show a material change of circumstances since the most recent order was put into effect. You must prove a material change in circumstances even if you and your ex-spouse originally agreed to the support order voluntarily. You should be able to establish any financial changes with little cost and no formal discovery – for example, by presenting your personal income tax filings.

A financial change in circumstances could involve:

  • A change in either spouse’s income, assets, debts, or liabilities
  • Receiving a degree or qualification that increases either party’s earning potential
  • The supported spouse starts to cohabitate with another romantic partner
  • Extreme hardships or losses suffered by either party
  • Changes in tax consequences or tax filing status
  • A minor child reaching the age of majority
  • The retirement of either party

A material change in circumstances includes anything that affects (increases or reduces) either the supporting party’s ability to pay or the supported party’s needs.

When modifying a permanent spousal support order, the court must again consider and weigh all of the relevant factors that played a role in determining the original order.

Despite being an emotionally charged issue, it’s important to approach spousal support matters in good faith. If the court finds out that you’ve attempted to hide the full truth of your assets, income, or earning capacity, you may be held in contempt or ordered to pay more in alimony.

Depending on the facts of your case, spousal support may play a role in your financial life for years or even decades. It’s important to find a divorce and spousal support attorney you can trust to represent your best interests and fight for an appropriate amount of alimony.

Call our Orange County family law firm now at (949) 688-8880 or use our online contact form to get started.