Is Spousal Support Guaranteed in California?

Contrary to popular belief, spousal support is not automatic, nor is it guaranteed in a California divorce. If the lower-earning spouse seeks spousal support and the higher-earning spouse fights it, a judge will have to decide whether or not to award it.

Spousal support can be awarded during or after a divorce. But if the spouses cannot agree on it, the judge will carefully consider a number of factors before deciding if it should be awarded. Such factors include but are not limited to:

  1. The length of the marriage.
  2. The age and health of both spouses.
  3. A spouse’s contributions as a homemaker.
  4. A spouse’s contributions to the other’s career, professional license, education or training.
  5. Each spouse’s debts, assets and income.
  6. If the lower-earning spouse’s career has been impacted by unemployment or caring for the couple’s children or home.

Will spousal support be awarded in your case? While it depends on the above factors, there are two other issues that may affect the judge’s determination. One, if you earn a lot more than your spouse, the chances are higher that you’ll be ordered to pay.

Secondly, spouses with a high school education are more likely to receive support than those with a bachelor’s degree simply because they have more employment opportunities.

Length of Spousal Support

When spousal support is awarded, it’s typically awarded for one-half the length of the marriage; however, judges have the discretion to order it for more or less time. If the marriage lasted 10 or more years (a marriage of long duration), the judge may order spousal support without an end date.

Spousal support ends when:

  1. A court order says it ends.
  2. The receiving spouse remarries.
  3. One of the former spouses dies.

Note: After a 75-year run, the tax laws on spousal support changed dramatically. As of January 1, 2019, spousal support is no longer tax-deductible for the paying spouse and it is no longer counted as taxable income for the receiving spouse.

Related: Does Remarriage End Spousal Support in California?