Spousal Support in California

When people end a marriage or a registered domestic partnership in the state of California, the issue of spousal or partner support is often hotly contested. The spouse or partner who has less earning power may ask the California divorce court judge for a support award, often referred to as “alimony,” but only as part of a court case. The case could involve divorce, legal separation, annulment or a domestic violence restraining order.

Who determines the amount of spousal support? How is it calculated? How long does it last? Can the amount be changed? These questions can seem overwhelming during what is already an emotional time. If you think you are eligible to be awarded spousal or partner support here in Sherman Oaks, Encino, Woodland Hills, Studio City or another area of Los Angeles County, or if you are defending yourself against an unfair request for spousal or partner support, an experienced California divorce attorney can help you get your due. Call Ghazi Law Group for a consultation, and we will explain your rights. In the meantime, here are some basics you will want to know.

Reaching a Spousal Support Agreement with the Other Party

If you can cooperate with your spouse and their legal counsel, then it would be best to reach an agreement that is good for both you and your spouse. You never know what a judge will award, and leaving spousal or partnership support up to a judge is a roll of the dice. Once you and your spouse have created and signed a written agreement, you must submit it to the judge to sign it before filing it with the Clerk of Court. There is no form for constructing such an agreement, so it is highly recommended that you ask your experienced California divorce attorney to help you create a fair agreement.

Ghazi Law Group icon

Ghazi Law Group, APLC

How a California Divorce Court Judge Determines an Award of Spousal Support

Should you leave it to the divorce court judge to determine whether spousal support should be awarded and the amount, there are a number of factors that go into the decision.

Calculating Temporary Spousal Support

You need not to wait until your divorce is finalized before you can collect spousal or partnership support. A judge can order temporary support to the party who has less does not suffer hardship during the proceedings.
Temporary support ordered while proceedings are ongoing is calculated differently than long-term support that begins once the divorce is finalized. Counties vary in how temporary support is determined, and in many counties, judges use a calculation to determine temporary spousal support. In Los Angeles County, where Sherman Oaks, Encino, Woodland Hills, and Studio City are located, the common practice is to use a calculation where spousal support can be up to 40% of the net monthly income of the payor spouse minus half of the net monthly income of the receiving spouse. If child support is also involved, that is first calculated before spousal support.

Determining Long-Term Spousal Support

At the end of your case, when the judge makes a long-term spousal or partner support order, the judge is bound by the factors outlined in California Family Code section 4320
These factors include among others:

  • Length of the marriage or domestic partnership
  • Standard of living the parties had during the marriage or domestic partnership
  • Income, earning capacity and other sources that determine what each party can pay to maintain the standard of living they had during the marriage
  • Whether it would unduly interfere with caring for dependent children in their custody if the supported party had a job
  • Debts and property
  • Ability of payor party to pay spousal support
  • Whether one of the parties helped the other to get an education, training, career, or professional license (such as one putting the other through medical school)
  • History of domestic violence
  • Whether one of the party’s career was affected by unemployment caused by domestic duties
  • The tax impact of spousal support (State and federal tax laws do not recognize domestic partnerships.)
  • Age and health of the parties

How a Judge Determines Earning Capacity and Keeping Up Standard of Living

When a judge is determining how much each party is likely to be able to earn to keep a standard of living similar to the one enjoyed during the marriage, the judge will consider:

  • Marketable skills of the party receiving support and the job market for those skills
  • The time and money needed for the party receiving support to get the educated required to gain marketable skills or become employed
  • How much the receiving party’s earning capacity was impacted because they took care of the home and children

How the Length of the Marriage Impacts Spousal Support

The length of the marriage or domestic partnership weighs very heavily in the determination of long-term spousal or partner support. However, usually, the goal is for the receiving spouse to be able to support themselves within a reasonable amount of time rather than get spousal support forever. A “reasonable period of time” is often defined as half the length of the marriage. However, a judge has quite a lot of leeway to consider the couple’s total situation and history. Also, if the couple was married or in a domestic partnership long-term, say10 years or more, then the judge does not have the authority to set an end date for support.

The Effect of Domestic Violence on Spousal and Partner Support

If there is documented evidence that the payor party abused the receiving party, the judge will consider the emotional distress suffered by the receiving party as a result of the abuse. The court will also weigh the situation if the receiving party was the abuser.

Ending Spousal or Partner Support

Spousal or domestic partner support may end

  • At the date stated in the court order or
  • When one of the party’s dies or
  • When the receiving party remarries or registers a new domestic partnership

H2: Changing a Spousal Support or Partner Support Order

Life is full of changes, and if circumstances significantly change for either party, then either party may ask for a change in the spousal support amount. An increase or decrease in the income of either party may justify a change in support. If the receiving party is not making a good faith effort to become self-sufficient, that may also be reason for the payor party to request a change or end of support.

Be aware that it is not enough to reach a private agreement on a change in support. If you do not get the court order changed and you are the payor, you will still owe the amount stated in the order.

Enforcing a Spousal Support Order

  • Should you fall behind in your spousal support payments, you must pay 10% per year in interest. The California family court judge does not have the authority to alter this.
  • If you owe a past due amount, your court order or garnishment will include an amount above your usual monthly spousal support in order to pay off the arrears. Interest will continue to accumulate.
  • Finally, if the family court judge decides you have the ability to pay but are just refusing to do so, they can find you in contempt of court which can result in jail time.

Your Local Child Support Agency (LCSA) may be able to help you collect. If you are still not getting your spousal support or for faster action, call your experienced California family law attorney to help you to collect spousal support.

Ask for Help When You Need It

If you are located in Sherman Oaks, Encino, Woodland Hills, Studio City or another area of Los Angeles County, Ghazi Law Group stands ready to help you with spousal and partner support issues. Whether you are trying to work out an agreement with your spouse, change a support order or enforce a spousal support order, call us as soon as you need help. The sooner you call, the sooner we can help you to resolve your spousal support problems. We have experienced California family lawyers who handle spousal support and partner support matters all the time. Call us for a consultation at (818) 839-6644 or email us at contact@ghazilawgroup.com.


Ghazi Law Group, APLC
15250 Ventura Blvd, Suite 420
Sherman Oaks, CA 91403

Phone: (818) 839-6644
Se Habla Español: (888) 747-0973
Fax: (818) 839-6649