California Divorce Blog (Spousal Support Options)

Recently it seems that many of my cases involve Spousal Support (formerly known as “alimony”). In fact, many cases seem to hinge on the issue of spousal support. I mean that all other issues can be resolved with the exception of spousal support. Spousal support can be, and often is, an emotional issue. Think about it. One spouse is faced with the prospect of breaking up a “lifetime partnership” with the other spouse but may be on the hook for paying spousal support for Life! This can often be difficult to imagine but a reality nonetheless.

So what is spousal support? Spousal support is a court order for one spouse to pay any amount necessary for the financial support of the other spouse (See California Family Code Section 4320). The Court may make temporary spousal support orders from the time the Divorce lawsuit is filed. At time of trial the Court may make permanent (lifetime) spousal support orders. This means that one spouse may be ordered to pay the other spouse support for the remainder of his or her life! There are many factors which the Court will consider when determining the amount of spousal support and the duration. A rule of thumb is the longer the marriage, the more likely the Court will order lifetime spousal support. Any marriage with a duration of ten years has been held to be a “long term marriage” and therefore makes is more likely that a court may order lifetime spousal support.

There are many methods to resolve the issue of spousal support. Typically, the spouse who is the higher income earner will be the spouse who is ordered to pay spousal support. Some options for resolving spousal support are as follows: 1) Agree upon a monthly spousal support amount for the remainder of the supported spouse’s life (or until the supported person remarries or the paying spouse dies). 2) Agree upon a monthly spousal support amount for a defined period (i.e., pay spousal support for five years). 3) Pay a one time lump sum spousal support payment. This option can be a double edged sword and may be a gamble. For the paying spouse, the gamble is that they are betting that by paying a one time lump sum payment the total sum will be less than if they paid a monthly amount for life. If the supported spouse immediately remarries or passes away then the paying spouse will have vastly overpaid the amount of spousal support necessary. The same is true of the supported spouse (i.e., the risk of taking a one time lump sum payment as opposed to spreading monthly payments over a lifetime period). Who knows how long both spouses will live. What is the condition of their health? Does the supported spouse want to remarry in the near future? These are all questions which parties and their counsel should consider when evaluating the tricky and emotional issue of spousal support.

If you are facing difficult decisions regarding spousal support please call Attorney Keith F. Simpson today to discuss at (310) 297-9090. Thank you for reading my California Family Law Blog!

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