Is Spousal Support Automatic in a California Divorce?

If you’re headed toward a divorce, you may be wondering if spousal support (called alimony in some states) is automatic or guaranteed in all divorces. Contrary to popular belief, spousal support is not automatic in a California divorce.

In California, spousal support can be ordered temporarily while a divorce is pending in the court, and it can be ordered after the divorce is final, or both. The spouses can agree on a spousal support award, but if the spouses cannot agree, or if the higher-earning spouse fights it, the case will have to go to court and a judge will have to decide.

What About Cheating?

A lot of clients ask us if a cheating spouse can be barred from receiving spousal support in California. This is a valid question, especially since in some states, marital misconduct, particularly, adultery, can prevent a spouse from receiving spousal support. However, that is not the case in California. As a no-fault divorce state, California family court judges are not interested in seeing evidence of an affair because it will have no bearing on a spousal support award.

There is one exception to the marital misconduct rule and that is domestic violence. If an abusive spouse is seeking spousal support and there is evidence that he or she has committed domestic violence against their husband or wife or one of the couple’s children, the abusive spouse can be denied spousal support they would otherwise be entitled to receive. So, when can a spouse get spousal support?

Factors Considered By a Judge

If the higher-earning spouse is contesting spousal support, the judge will consider a variety of factors before issuing a decision, such as:

  1. The length of the marriage
  2. The age and health of each spouse
  3. Each spouse’s income and assets
  4. Contributions as a homemaker
  5. Each spouse’s earning capacity
  6. Contributions to the other spouse’s education or earning capacity

Much of it comes down to a lower-earning spouse’s need for support and the higher-earning spouse’s ability to pay it. If there is a large discrepancy between the spouse’s incomes, or if the lower-earning spouse only has a high school education, the likelihood of spousal support being awarded is higher.

When spousal support is awarded, it’s typically for one-half the length of the marriage, but if the marriage lasted 10 or more years, the judge may award support without an end date. That doesn’t mean it will last indefinitely, but if one of the parties wants to end or modify the support payments, they’ll have to go back to court.

To meet with an Orange County lawyer from our firm, contact us today.