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How Much Spousal Support (Alimony) May I Receive in a California Divorce?

The amount and duration of spousal support in California may be agreed upon by the parties in a prenuptial agreement or separation agreement. If the parties are unable to come to an agreement between themselves, a judge may make a determination based on the evidence presented by both parties. Although judges are given discretion to determine the exact amount of support and the length of time that support will be paid, California law specifies certain factors that judges must consider before making a support order. These factors may be found in Section 4320 of the California Family Code. Use our free Caliornia Alimony Calculator to obtain an estimate on how much alimony you may receive or pay in a California divorce. Read on to learn more. 

Duration of Spousal Support (Alimony)

The goal of any support order, according to California law, should be to make the party receiving support to be self sufficient within a “reasonable period of time” after the parties’ divorce. Generally speaking, except for marriages of long duration (10 years or more), the receiving party should be self-sufficient within a period equal to one-half of the length of the marriage. If the parties were married for eight years, for example, the law presumes that the receiving party should be self sufficient after four years, and the support order should reflect that goal. These time frames are provided as a guide, but are not absolutely required.

California Family Code Section 4320 Factors

In determining the amount and duration of a permanent spousal support order, the court is required to consider the relative financial positions of each party, including their education, job skills, experience, and earning capacity. Earning capacity may be affected by absence from the workforce due to caring for children, or by a party’s age and health. Earning capacity may also be affected by the availability and expense of acquiring additional education or training.

Other financial considerations include the assets of each party, including separate property owned by each, the needs of the parties, including the custody arrangements, and the financial obligations of the parties.

Additional considerations include:

  • The extent to which one party contributed to or supported the attainment of education or a career of the other party.
  • Documented history of domestic violence by one party against the other. Evidence of domestic violence by either the paying or receiving party must be considered, including any criminal convictions, protective orders, or other documented proof of abuse or domestic violence.
  • The tax consequences to both parties.
  • The standard of living of the parties during their marriage.

Finally, the court must balance the hardships of each party and determine whether the hardship to either would be unduly severe. The court may consider other factors not listed, but must consider all factors mentioned in the statute. After all factors are considered, the court may decide to order temporary, or in some cases, permanent spousal support (for a fixed duration).

When to Consult a California Divorce Attorney

Before signing a prenuptial or separation agreement that limits or excludes spousal support, talk to a California divorce attorney. It is difficult, but not impossible, to overturn such agreements, but you should be aware of your legal rights before signing any legal document. If you believe a support order was entered without due consideration of the required factors, it may be possible to appeal the order. In some circumstances, when financial conditions have significantly changed, spousal support orders may be amended by either party. Talk to an experienced divorce attorney if you are considering divorce, or if you have questions about a support order, either as the paying or receiving party.

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