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Los Gatos, CA divorce alimony attorneyOne of the trickiest issues to negotiate in a divorce can be the matter of spousal support, or alimony. When a couple has enjoyed a comfortable standard of living for many years, with one party being the primary income provider and the other taking primary responsibility for home and family needs, the issue of spousal support can be as important as the division of assets and retirement savings.  

When a couple is unable to reach agreement on the question of spousal support payments, and the couple does not have a premarital or postmarital agreement that addresses the subject, then a judge must decide whether to order spousal support and, if so, in what amount. This is a very complex decision, requiring the court to study not only the couple’s assets and debts but also their lifestyle, occupational skills, income-earning capacity, childcare needs, and more. 

Note that this article will discuss only “permanent” spousal support,” that is, payments that will be made by one party to the other after a marital settlement agreement has been finalized. This is separate from the “temporary” spousal support that may be required while a divorce is pending. 

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Los Gatos spousal support lawyerWhen a couple gets divorced, the higher-earning spouse may be required to pay spousal support to a non-working or lower-paid spouse for some period of time after the divorce. This is called “permanent” spousal support, as opposed to the “temporary” spousal support that may be paid while a divorce is pending. 

However, do not let the term “permanent” confuse you. So-called “permanent” spousal support will not necessarily be for the rest of your life. Its duration will depend on several factors, including the length of the marriage and the ability of the supported party to become self-supporting. In fact, Section 4320 of the California Family Code states that a supported spouse is expected to become self-supporting “within a reasonable period of time.” 

Length of Marriage Affects Duration of California Spousal Support 

The duration of the marriage is a major factor in determining the duration of spousal support. If a couple has been married for less than 10 years, a “reasonable period of time” is generally defined as one-half the length of the marriage. For example, if a couple was married for six years, the court would typically award spousal support for no longer than three years. However, the court has total discretion to order support for a longer or shorter period of time based on the totality of the couple’s circumstances.

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Santa Clara County permanent alimony attorneyWhen a couple decides to divorce, one issue that can be difficult to negotiate is the payment of spousal support, also known as alimony. You might think that a high-earning spouse will automatically have to pay monthly support to a spouse who has not been earning a paycheck or whose earnings have been substantially lower. However, California law on this issue is fairly complex. 

While child support payments are determined by state-mandated guidelines, and there is a basic formula used to compute “temporary” spousal support payments that may be required while a divorce is pending. However, there is no simple formula for post-divorce, “permanent” spousal support payments. (“Permanent” is in quotes because the duration of support payments will be defined in the final settlement agreement. The agreement could, for example, require payments for the supported party’s lifetime, until their remarriage, or only for a specific number of years.)

Generally speaking, the objective of temporary support is to enable each party to maintain the standard of living established during the marriage. However, Sections 4320-4339 of the California Family Code provide a long list of factors that the court must consider when deciding whether to order permanent spousal support, in what amount, and for what length of time.

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