Many divorce cases can go along smoothly until some one utters the words “Spousal Support”. More commonly known as Alimony, the State of California uses the term Spousal Support on all legal documents connected to divorce, and phased out the word Alimony. Spousal Support and Alimony are exactly the same thing. A California Divorce does not require the payment of spousal support, support to both parties can be terminated.
However, when spousal support is requested it is often Wife who has foregone or taken time off from a career to raise children, and more often it is Wife who has worked part time. Therefore, it is most common for a Wife to be entitled to spousal support. However, if a Wife is the higher earner, she can be ordered to pay spousal support to a Husband. Regardless of which person is ordered to pay support, the anger and bitterness connected to spousal support are often intense, with the party ordered to pay insisting, “It’s my money, I work for it, I shouldn’t have to pay Anything!”
Sometimes the parties are agreeable about the amount of spousal support that should be paid, either going by guideline calculations or coming up with a number that seems fair and workable for the party paying support. If two people can at least agree on the amount of support, a big hurdle has been surmounted. The next issue often is: for how long is support going to be paid?
When a marriage lasts LESS than 10 years, in California the longest support will be ordered in the majority of circumstances is one-half the length of the marriage. If the marriage lasted 8 years, spousal support could be ordered for 4 years. The difficulty comes when the marriage is 10 years or more in length.
If the parties are fairly young and the marriage is just past 10 years, it’s possible that support could be ordered for 10 years or more, but a Judge would have to set an end date if the two people cannot agree to an end date for support. Attorneys often litigate the issue, no end date is set, and several years down the road the parties are back in court with one side trying to get the spousal support order either reduced or terminated.
If you want to be done with your divorce and NOT litigate down the road, it’s best to negotiate and end date to support and have that end date written into a Marital Settlement Agreement. For marriages that lasted closer to 15 years, or between 15 to 20 or more, and the party to be supported did not pursue a career during marriage, it is reasonable to put a fairly long time frame for support. Some couples decide to end spousal support when the paying party will turn 62, or 63, or 65. Therefore, the end date for spousal support will be set according to when the paying party hopes to retire. This is reasonable and often acceptable to both sides.
When a marriage has lasted less than 15 years, and closer to 10, it’s important to consider whether the supported party is working at the time of the divorce, or will have to go to school/complete school over a span of four or five years in order to earn a reasonable income. Some couples want to set spousal support exactly one year for every year of marriage, others want the spousal support to run the same length of time as child support. If that model is followed, all support ceases when the youngest child turns 18.
It’s important to remember: Spousal Support can be modified to zero if the supported party cohabitates with a member of the opposite sex. If the supported party remarries, support stops. It makes sense that if a person were allowed to live with a romantic partner and continue to receive spousal support, many people would cohabitate and not remarry for the sole purpose of forcing the previous spouse to continue to support essentially someone else’s wife or husband. It makes sense that spousal support would stop once a person is essentially someone else’s wife or husband, whether the relationship if formalized by marriage or not.
If spousal support can be discussed calmly and a fair agreement made, the divorce can go smoothly. Spousal support is often the most contentious issue in a divorce, but calm discussion and rational consideration can lead to a reasonable agreement.
If you have questions about spousal support, please call Kristin Harrison at 951-795-3900 to discuss the issue. Do-It-Yourself Divorce with a Legal Document Assistant is located in Murrieta. We serve Temecula, Murrieta, Lake Elsinore, Wildomar, Menifee, Perris, Sun City, Canyon Lake, French Valley, Winchester, and Hemet.