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Bay Area Family Attorneys > Blog > Spousal Support > How Do California Courts Decide On Spousal Support?

How Do California Courts Decide On Spousal Support?


The issue of spousal support, also commonly referred to as “alimony,” is not unique to California. Every state in the U.S. deals with divorce cases involving the question of spousal support or alimony every day. However, while the issue itself is not unique, you should be aware of the unique rules and regulations enacted in your state that govern spousal support. The same rules that applied to your cousin and her divorce in another state will not align 1:1 with what California’s rules and processes are. So – what should you expect regarding spousal support as you pursue a divorce in California?

Spousal Support – What is it?

Spousal support in California is court-ordered payments that were designed to ease the financial hardship that can fall upon a dependent spouse if and when the couple pursues a divorce. If there is financial need on the part of one party, or a substantial gap between the earnings of one spouse and the earnings of the other, you should ready yourself for spousal support to become a topic in your divorce proceedings.

When Spousal Support Comes into Play

If it appears that at the conclusion of the divorce that each spouse will be able to maintain a lifestyle similar to that which they enjoyed during the marriage, then a court may not order any type of spousal support payment at all.

The court wants each party to leave the table with a generally fair and equal agreement. If dissolving the marriage negatively impacts one partner because there is a significant gap in earning potential, health issues that impact the ability to work, etc., then the court may order spousal payments be made that partner to in order to help bridge the gap.

California Spousal Support Types

As mentioned previously, the way various states handle issues like spousal support varies widely. In California, two types of alimony may be ordered: temporary support, or permanent support. Which option is designated as appropriate by the court will be dependent on various specifics of your case.

  1. Temporary Support

Temporary support, also known as “short term” support, provides financial support for one partner for a designated, limited period of time. The support order is designed to ensure that the lower-earning spouse is able to maintain a stable lifestyle during the divorce process. These payments generally end once the divorce is finalized, though a different date could very well be ordered by the court.

  1. Permanent Support

Also known as “short term” support, permanent spousal support is a long-term obligation to provide support. However, the term “permanent” is somewhat misleading. It is quite rare for a spousal support order to truly be permanent or indefinite. The length of support will be dependent on several factors such as the level of need and length of the marriage.

One should only really think about spousal support in a permanent or indefinite sense if the spouse who is being supported suffers from a disability and is unable to work.

How Are the Payments Calculated?

The court will endeavor to ensure that both parties can maintain the lifestyle they were accustomed to during the course of the marriage. Some of the court’s considerations will include:

  • The length of the marriage.
  • Job skills.
  • The earning potential of both spouses.
  • Health concerns.
  • Child-care responsibilities.
  • Level of need.
  • Ability to pay.

Family Code §4320 can be referenced for a detailed account on the factors considered by the court.

Contact Cardwell, Steigerwald Young

If you are facing a spousal support issue, reach out to one of the distinguished San Francisco spousal support lawyers at Cardwell, Steigerwald Young. One of our experienced attorneys can help you navigate any question or complication that may arise in your case.


Law section (ca.gov)


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