How to Obtain, Modify, or Terminate a California Spousal Support Order

California law allows spouses and domestic partners to request support, both before and after the marriage has ended. A spouse or domestic partner can ask a court to order support under the following circumstances:

Pendente Lite Support (Temporary Alimony)

While a suit for divorce, legal separation, or annulment is pending, a court may order a spouse to pay temporary support. This type of support is called pendente lite support, and is intended to provide for the needs of a dependent spouse or partner until the case is completed. In awarding pendente lite support, the court will consider the financial circumstances of each party and award an amount based on their relative incomes and needs. In order to ask for temporary spousal support, one party must file a suit for divorce, legal separation, or annulment. Once the suit has been filed, either party may ask the court for an order of temporary support by filing a request with the court in which the suit is pending. A request for temporary support may also be filed along with the initial suit for divorce, legal separation, or annulment.  You will need to complete the following forms to submit a request for temporary spousal support:

The necessary forms can be found here, but it is always best to consult a California divorce attorney before filing for divorce or legal separation.

Domestic Violence & Alimony

A spouse or domestic partner that is the victim of domestic violence may ask for support without filing for divorce or legal separation. An order of support may be made when one spouse obtains a domestic violence restraining order against the other.

Long Term or Permanent Support

Spousal support may be awarded as part of a divorce settlement. The order is called a permanent support order because it is a final order, even though the support itself is rarely permanent. A permanent support order may include monthly payments that last for months or years after the termination of the marriage or partnership, or may be made in one or more lump sum payments.

Modifying an Existing Order

A permanent support order may be modified under certain conditions:

  1. The order was unfair or based on false or incomplete information. Courts in California are required to consider a long list of factors in determining the amount and duration of spousal support. If it can be proven that the court failed to properly consider one or more of these factors, either party may file a motion to amend the order. The order may also be modified if one spouse is found to have presented false or incomplete information, such as hiding assets or failing to report income.
  2. Changed circumstances. If either party suffers an illness or disability that affects their ability to work, or if other changed financial circumstances affects either the paying or receiving spouse, they may request a modification of a support order. A modification will not be granted if a party voluntarily quits a job, moves into a more expensive dwelling, or if the changed circumstances are due to any other voluntary action.

Termination of a Support Order

Either party may request the court to terminate an existing order under some circumstances. For example, upon the death of either spouse, a support order may be terminated. The order may also be terminated if the paying spouse becomes permanently disabled, or if the receiving spouse remarries or enters into a new domestic partnership. Usually, the support order will specify the circumstances that will lead to termination.

Seek Legal Advice

California courts provide family law facilitators that can help people fill out the forms for requesting, modifying, or terminating spousal support, but they cannot provide legal advice. Talk to a California divorce attorney if you have any questions about spousal or partner support.

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