Alimony refers to payments made from one ex-spouse to another for maintenance after and during divorce. In California, alimony is referred to as spousal support. Whether spousal support will be awarded, how much, and for how long are determined at the discretion of the court and are subject to many factors.
Who can receive spousal support
When it comes to awarding spousal support, California, like many states, gives the court significant discretion. There are several factors that the court may use to aid in the determination of spousal support, some of which include:
- The earning capacity of each party and the level at which both capacities are “sufficient to maintain the standard of living established during the marriage”
- Any contributions the “supported party” made to the education, training, or career development of the “supporting party”
- The level of capability of the “supporting party” to actually pay the support based on his or her income, assets, and standard of living
- The length of the marriage
- Whether and to what extent the supported party could achieve and maintain gainful employment without “unduly interfering with the interests of dependent children” in that party’s custody
- Both parties’ respective ages and health
- Any documented history of domestic violence
- “Any other factors the court determines are just and equitable.”
How long does spousal support last?
Another issue that often arises when spousal support is concerned has to do with how long it will be paid. The same statute states that the goal of spousal support is that the supported party will be self supported for a “reasonable period of time” which usually is considered half the length of the marriage. However, that estimate is only a guideline that is typically utilized absent special circumstances and the court may choose to award spousal support for more or less time at its discretion. For longer marriages, there is no set guideline for spousal support time limits, and often, there is not a time limit on the spousal support. In many cases, the court may award indefinite spousal support until the supported spouse remarries.
Most recently, spousal support has become a local debate in Huntington Beach. A local divorcee is on a mission to end spousal support in California. A man named Steve Clark claims the $100,000 legal battle he experienced with his ex-wife over spousal should have been spent on his daughter’s education, not legal fees. Clark is currently spearheading a campaign to end spousal support in California. In an effort to advance the cause, Clark’s organization has drafted suggested legislation that changes California’s current spousal support statute to be nonexistent, except in cases of stay at home mothers, whose situations should be judged on a case by case basis and whose support should taper off 20% yearly to allow them to become self supporting. In order to advance the draft legislation, Clark is currently collecting over 365,000 signatures in a petition.
The debate Mr. Clark presents over alimony is a two faceted one. On one hand, Mr. Clark claims that the legislative intent for a divorce staple like alimony was one meant for a time when women did not work outside the home. Mr. Clark claims that the times have changed such that women, in general, do not need alimony in the same way, as they account for nearly half of the workforce.
On the other hand, spousal support has transformed into a multifaceted issue, one that addresses not only the transitional needs of dependent spouses in general, but also the needs of children whose parents have significantly different incomes or income potentials. As the factors themselves indicate, the court needs to account for the spouse’s ability to maintain a standard of living as determined by that set during the marriage; in a case where a business executive is divorcing a school teacher, that factor would weigh in significantly.