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What is spousal support?

On Behalf of | Nov 12, 2020 | Spousal Support

Ending a marriage or relationship may resolve some problems but also have financial consequences. In a California divorce or separation, however, a court may order a spouse to pay spousal support or alimony or a domestic partner to pay partner support.

Seeking support

A spouse or domestic partner can seek a support order from a court in a divorce, legal separation, or annulment. Courts may also include support orders in a domestic violence restraining order.

Temporary spousal support or temporary partner support orders may be issued if a party needs support during an ongoing court case. Courts can also order permanent or long-term spousal or partner support after the divorce or legal separation is final.

Calculating support

Courts want to assure that a spouse or partner receiving support will be able to support themselves within a reasonable time. Local judges generally use a formula to calculate the amount of temporary support.

For permanent support, judges rely on California legal standards:

  • The marriage or relationship’s length.
  • A spouse or partner’s needs based on the standard of living during the marriage or relationship.
  • The amount each person pays or can pay, including earnings and earnings capacity, to maintain their standard of living during the marriage or domestic partnership.
  • Whether employment would pose childcare difficulties.
  • Spouses’ or partners’ age and health.
  • Debts and assets.
  • Whether a spouse or partner assisted the other party with their education, training, career, or professional licensure.
  • Whether there was domestic violence.
  • If a spouse’s or domestic partner’s career was affected by unemployment, childcare, or domestic duties.
  • Any spousal support tax consequences.


A court support order must be followed until the end date in the order, a court orders a change, or a court ends support. Orders may also end if the recipient party dies, remarries, or registers a new domestic partnership.

Ten percent interest per year is added on the balance due if a spouse or partner falls behind on their payments. A court order or garnishment concerning past-due support may include an amount exceeding the monthly ordered amount which goes toward resolving the arrears.

A court may find that a party in arrears is in contempt of court if they can pay support. This can lead to imprisonment in serious cases.


Either party may ask for modifications if there is a change in circumstances. This must be something significant such as a spouse or partner no longer needing support, the payor’s income substantially dropping, or a recipient party who is not making a good-faith effort to become self-supporting.

Seeking support may be complicated. An attorney can help protect a party’s rights in these proceedings.