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.
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.
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.