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What Should You Know About California's Alimony Laws?

If you're contemplating divorce in the Golden State, you may be concerned by news stories of milliondollar Hollywood divorces. Oftentimes, these are coupled with generous spousal support packages that provide the lower-earning spouse with a lifetime of income.
For those who out earn their spouses by a significant margin, the prospect of lifetime alimony can be a chilling prospect, and protecting your assets from the reach of the divorce court can be a challenge. What are your options if you're worried about being ordered to pay alimony and maintain ties to your ex-spouse for years after your divorce?

Read to learn more about how alimony is calculated and implemented under California law and what you can do to minimize your own financial obligations to your ex-spouse once your divorce has been finalized.  

How California Treats Spousal Support

Under California law, alimony can be ordered when one or more of several factors weigh in favor of spousal support. These factors include: 
  • Each of the parties' marketable skills and education
  • The extent to which a spouse put his or her career on hold to support the other
  • The ability of each spouse to earn enough income to maintain a similar standard of living as that enjoyed during the marriage
These factors are designed to protect against divorces that leave the lower-earning spouse and any children in dire financial straits or struggling to hang onto the marital home. Especially when the primary breadwinner can continue to live his or her life unmarked by financial difficulties.

This list of considerations is also meant to protect spouses who took time off to raise children or support the higher earner's career and later find themselves losing a sizable proportion of the income to which they contributed-despite not earning this income directly. 

While some states have laws or court cases restricting the imposition of "lifetime alimony" or providing that spousal support can only continue for a certain period of time after the divorce is finalized, California has no such restrictions. This opens up the potential of the court awarding lifetime alimony.

An alimony award can be modified or reduced later, such as when the person paying alimony loses his or her job or suffers a permanent disability. However, modifying an award once established can be far more challenging than ensuring an alimony award is never entered into in the first place.  

What to Consider When Divorcing a Lower-Earning Spouse 

Similar to other states with fairly broad spousal support laws, divorce mediation is a popular dispute resolution method in California. Many high earners seeking divorce find it far more beneficial to come to a legally binding agreement with their soon-to-be ex-spouse through mediation rather than leaving the decision to a judge. 

You may want to investigate your own mediation options or explore your soon-to-be ex-spouse's feelings on mediation to see whether this would be a viable alternative. Often, by giving up your title to certain marital property, like the home, or providing a cash payout when the divorce is finalized, you'll ensure your ex-spouse is well taken care of without signing on to a payment plan of indeterminate length. 

You may also want to consider investing in your soon-to-be ex-spouse's career or education  prior to the divorce. By improving your spouse's employment prospects and ensuring that he or she is well on the way to establishing a lucrative career prior to filing for divorce, you'll be able to minimize the risk that you'll be assessed alimony.

Because of the significant impact a divorce decree can have on your life and your finances, it's important to seek legal advice early in the process. Doing so can minimize your financial exposure during divorce while ensuring your future is off to a bright start. Contact the law offices of Jeffery N. Novack for an initial consultation.  

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    The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding you individual situation. We invite you to contact us and welcome your call, letter or electronic mail. Contacting us does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please do not send any confidential information to you until such time as an attorney-client relationship has been established.