Protecting Your Rights: California Spousal Support Law

Spousal Support – Alimony Determinations in California

What is Spousal Support?

Spousal support, also known as alimony, is a court order, in which a spouse is ordered to pay an amount to cover a lower-earning spouse’s monthly living expenses or needs. The order serves to provide financial assistance to the lower-earning spouse during and/or after a divorce proceeding.

The primary objective of spousal support is to ensure that both parties can maintain a reasonably similar standard of living established during their time together. It is aimed at helping the supported spouse financially with the goal for the supported spouse to be self-supporting over time.

In determining spousal support, the divorce court may consider the length of the marriage, the supported spouse’s financial needs, the paying spouse’s ability to pay, the standard of living during the marriage, and the earning capacity of both parties.

Overall, spousal support ensures fairness and financial stability for both parties involved in a divorce or legal separation in california. Consulting an experienced family law attorney can provide valuable guidance in navigating the complexities of spousal support and reaching a fair resolution.

Two Types of Spousal Support

In California, spousal support can be temporary or “permanent” or long-term, depending on the circumstances of each case. Temporary spousal support is often decided at the beginning of the divorce process and lasts until permanent support is awarded or the divorce is finalized.

Permanent, long-term spousal support can be awarded for a specific period of time or even indefinitely, particularly in cases involving long-term marriages or when one spouse is unable to achieve financial independence due to factors such as health issues or job market limitations.

Our goal is to ensure fairness to the parties in a divorce proceeding. One spouse cannot be fully overwhelmed with spousal support payments that will reduce his or her lifestyle while the other party may be receiving other income from third-party sources.

Temporary Spousal Support

Temporary spousal support is typically ordered during the divorce process and is meant to provide financial assistance to the lower-earning spouse while the case is pending. Although other factors may be considered, temporary spousal support in California is primarily determined by reference to a formula, and is often referred to “guideline” support. This calculation for guideline support is generally based upon the spouses monthly income as follows:

To calculate guideline spousal support, subtract half of the net monthly income of the lower-earning spouse from 40% of the net monthly income of the higher-earning spouse.

California law permits a temporary award of spousal support during the pendency of the divorce proceeding where based on two conditions: the supported party’s needs, and the other party’s ability to pay. Read more of Family Code Section 3600.

Temporary spousal support payments are to maintain the living conditions of the parties in as close to the status quo financially as possible pending trial and the division of their assets. To research the amount of spousal support you will receive or have to pay, visit our page: California Spousal Support Calculator

Permanent, Long Term, Spousal Support

On the other hand, permanent spousal support is ordered, if at all, after a trial on the issue of support. As a benchmark, California law provides that its duration may be determined as half the time of the marriage. This California law is not mandatory, and one spouse may show additional circumstances, such as a marriage of long duration over ten years, that necesitate granting permanent spousal support for a longer period of time.

Aside from an agreement of the parties, such as a prenuptial agreement or a marital settlement agreement during a divorce, spousal support may be awarded by the court until the death of either party or remarriage of the requesting spouse. So that it could be awarded for years after the spouses have divorced.

In ordering permanent spousal support, the court will base its decision upon the following statutory factors:

1. The extent to which the earning capacity of each party is sufficient to maintain the standard of living established during the marriage. The court may take into account the employable skills of the supported party; the job market for those skills; the time and expenses required for the supported party to acquire the appropriate education or training to develop those skills; and the possible need for retraining or education to acquire other, more marketable skills or employment; the extent to which the supported party’s present or future earning capacity is impaired because of domestic duties.

2. The extent to which the supported party contributed to the attainment of an education, training, a career position, or a license by the supporting party.

3. The ability of the supporting party to pay spousal support.

4. The needs of each party based on the standard of living.

5. The obligations and assets of each party.

6. The length of the marriage.

7. The ability of the supported party to engage in gainful employment.

8. Age and health of the parties.

9. Documented evidence of any history of domestic violence.

10. The tax consequences to each party.

11. The hardships to each party.

12. The goal to have the supported party to be self-supporting within a reasonable period of time. Except in the case of a marriage of long duration, a reasonable period of time generally shall be one-half the length of the marriage.

13. The criminal conviction of an abusive spouse.

14. Other factors the court deems may be just and equitable.

Read Family Code Section 4320.

In California, the court has discretion in determining the amount and duration of spousal support by considering the circumstances of each case.

The aim of long-term spousal support is to ensure that the lower-earning spouse has the same standard of living that he or she has become accustomed during the marriage. Unless the marriage is one of “long duration”, the appropriate period of time for the award of permanent spousal support shall be one-half the length of the marriage.

As part of its decision, the court may order the party seeking support to submit to an examination by a vocational training counselor. The examination shall include an assessment of the party’s ability to obtain employment if unemployed.

It is important for individuals seeking spousal support to consult with an spousal support attorney, such as Keith F. Carr, who can help navigate the complexities and ensure their rights are protected.

When Does Spousal Support End?

There are various scenarios in which spousal support in California can come to an end.

Firstly, spousal support can terminate when both parties agree in writing that spousal support should no longer be paid. This agreement may be made part of the divorce settlement or indeed prior to marriage in a prenuptial agreement. Learn more about prenuptial agreements.

There are circumstances in which spousal support automatically ends. In California, support terminates automatically upon the death of either party or remarriage of the spouse seeking support.

Change or “modification” of a permanent support order 

Unless agreed otherwise, the court retains jurisdiction or the mandate to make orders in the case indefinitely in a divorce case where the marriage is of long duration. A marriage is presumed to be of long duration if the date of marriage to date of separation of the parties is 10 years or more.

If you are seeking to modify or increase or decrease a permanent spousal support order in California, there are certain steps that need to be followed. The process begins with preparing the necessary forms to request a modification.

After serving the other party, both parties will be required to attend a hearing. During the hearing, the court will consider the request for a modification and any supporting evidence or arguments. The spouse seeking a change in support must present a significant change in circumstances to the court that justifies the modification of spousal support.

Keep in mind that modifying a long-term, permanent support order already entered is not guaranteed and the court will consider various factors such as the duration of the marriage, the supported spouse’s ability to become self-supporting, and the financial circumstances of both parties.

To navigate this process smoothly, contact Keith F. Carr, an experienced family law attorney who can help you prepare the necessary paperwork, navigate the legal requirements, and advocate for you in court.


Spousal support can present complex and difficult legal issues during a divorce. In California, the court may order the higher earning spouse to provide spousal support to the other on a temporary or permanent basis.

The parties may agree to spousal support before or during a divorce. If no agreement is reached, however, the court considers many statutory factors in awarding permanent spousal support payments to the requesting spouse and in determining its duration, as discussed above.

It is essential to consult with an experienced family law attorney such as the Law Offices of Keith F. Carr when dealing with the issue of spousal support. Our office can guide you through the legal challenges, help protect your rights, and ensure that the temporary and permanent spousal support order reflects your financial circumstances. With our expertise, you can look forward to future financial stability after divorce.

The Law Offices of Keith F. Carr will provide the legal advice and representation that you need for a just and fair resoltion of spousal support in your divorce. Schedule an online appointment today.

Consult the Law Offices of Keith F. Carr today, a San Francisco spousal support attorney.

Frequently Asked Questions

The factors that the court must consider are specified in Family Code Section 4320. One factor is the length of the marriage. If the marriage is one of long duration, over ten years, the court may consider a longer period for spousal support.

The lower earning spouse may receive an order of temporary or guideline spousal support right away  during a divorce. If you were married for less than ten years, then expect to obtain spousal support for half the duration of the marriage; if more than ten years, support can be ordered by the court for many years depending on the recipient spouse’s need and payor spouse’s ability to pay.

The court filing fee to file your first papers in San Francisco County is $435.00 Dollars. In addition, in San Francisco County, the court filing fee to file a request for order for temporary spousal support is $60.00 Dollars. 

No. There is a hard limit on the duration of support as follows: Spousal support terminates automatically upon the death of either party or remarriage of the spouse seeking support. Also, you may file a request for order to lower spousal support if you lose your job. Absent these rules, spousal support may be ordered for years in a long duration marriage.

Guideline is temporary spousal support which can be ordered at the outset of a divorce case based upon one spouse’s need and one spouse’s ability to pay. The order will be temporary, meaning it will last until terminated by the court or a trial for permanent support. The amount of guideline support will be as follows: Subtract half of the net monthly income of the lower-earning spouse from 40% of the net monthly income of the higher-earning spouse. For the exact amount of spousal support, visit: California Spousal Support Calculator.

About Author

Keith F. Carr is an attorney practicing Divorce, Estate Planning, and Bankruptcy. Attorney Keith F. Carr has over 30 years experience. Founder of Law Offices of Keith F. Carr, located in San Francisco, San Jose, and Palo Alto, Ca.

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