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Spousal Support Frequently Asked Questions

Can Alimony Be Modified in California?

California alimony, also known as spousal support, can be modified. There is one important caveat to this: if you and your ex-spouse agreed in your settlement agreement that spousal support would be non-modifiable. If the term "non-modifiable" is in your agreement, then the court is without jurisdiction to modify or change the ordered spousal support amount. Assuming no such wording is in your court order or judgment, you and your ex-spouse  can agree to modify or even terminate spousal support whenever you wish, but a modification of spousal support in California typically takes place when there has been a change in circumstances for either of the parties. 

One common change in circumstances leading to a modification of spousal support is when the spouse receiving support begins living with a person of the opposite sex. California law presumes in this case (though the presumption can be rebutted) that there is a decreased need for spousal support. Other common changes of circumstances include an increase in income of the party receiving support, or a job loss or decreased income on the part of the person paying the support.  An increase in the income of the person paying support after the divorce, however, does not necessarily warrant an increase in spousal support. Because spousal support payments are typically paid through wage assignment directly from a person's paycheck, it is important to submit a new wage garnishment to the employer if a court order is made modifying the amount of spousal support to be paid.   

Spousal support terminates automatically on the death of the spouse receiving support and if the supported spouse remarries.

How Do California Courts Determine Alimony?

Alimony, also called spousal support in California, is payment from one party to the other, either during or after a divorce. Temporary spousal support is paid to a lower-earning spouse by the spouse who earns more, while a divorce is pending. Permanent (more appropriately called "long-term") spousal support is awarded when a divorce is final, with the intention that it will restore the receiving (payee) spouse to a financial standard of living close to the one established during the marriage. 

As with many aspects of your divorce, you and your spouse may agree on alimony. If you cannot reach agreement, the court will decide whether to award spousal support, how much, and for how long. Factors that courts in San Diego and other California counties must consider include:

  • the length of the marriage
  • the age and health of the spouses
  • the marketable skills of the payee spouse, or how long it would take him or her to obtain marketable skills
  • the extent to which the payee spouse contributed to the payor spouse’s attainement of an education, training, career, or license
  • the extent to which the payee spouse's future ability to secure employment is likely to be affected by periods of unemployment during the marriage to attend to domestic obligations
  • each spouse's assets and debts
  • whether the payee spouse could work outside the home without excessive disruption to the care of dependent children in his or her care
  • each spouse's financial needs, based on the standard of living established during the marriage
  • tax consequences of an alimony award to each party
  • the payor spouse's ability to pay
  • the balance of the hardships to each party.

The court may also factor in any other information it deems just and equitable to consider.

Spousal support is one of the most frequently litigated issues in family court.  The judge has great discretion to award support, and how the relevant factors are presented to the court can make a significant difference in the orders that are made.  Our firm has extensive experience litigating and negotiating spousal support for our clients on both sides of this issue.  It is imperative that your attorney understands the dynamics within your particular matter to be able to fully present all relevant factors on this highly-debated issue.  As always, our goal is to reach an agreement without the necessity of litigation.  However, if that is not possible, we are ready to argue the matter before the court to ensure that your position and supporting facts are skillfully presented.

San Diego Bar AssociationSection of Family LawCalifornia State Bar Family Law American Bar Association Avvo Clients' Choice 2014