Kevin Qualls Family Law
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How does alimony work?

A California court can order one spouse or partner to pay spousal support, also known as alimony, when the couple splits or divorces. This may be one of the more difficult family law issues.

A spouse or domestic partner may seek spousal or partner in a divorce, legal separation, annulment or a domestic restraining order. When the case is final, permanent or long-term spousal support may be part of the divorce decree.

The judge must consider several matters when issuing a final support order. These include the length of the marriage or partnership, the support that each person needs for continuing their standard of living from the marriage or partnership, and what each person can pay based upon their earnings and earnings capacity, to maintain their standard of living.

A court will also consider whether having a job would make it difficult for one spouse or partner to care for their children, the age and health of the spouses or partners, their debts and property and whether one spouse or partner helped the other obtain an education, profession, career or training. Furthermore, courts must review whether unemployment or taking care of the children at home impacted a spouse's or domestic partner's career. Courts also look at whether the couple had problems with domestic violence toward each other.

Finally, courts will consider the tax impact of spousal support. Alimony is usually deductible for the paying spouse and taxable to the supported spouse. The tax law is more complicated for domestic partners, however.

A court can also order temporary spousal support during a pending case. Local judges often use different formulas for calculating a temporary support order.

Support is usually based on the length of the marriage or partnership. It is anticipated that the spouse or partner will be able to support themselves and cease receiving support at some point in the future. However, judges may not set an end date for support when a marriage or partnership lasted at least 10 years.

Spouses or partners may seek a modification when there is a change in circumstances since the final support order was issued. Also, parties may agree on a spousal or partner support order without having a judge deciding or resolving this dispute.

Seeking and understanding of alimony is difficult but may have long-term consequences. An attorney can assist parties with understanding their rights and seeking fair and reasonable support.

Source: California Courts, "Spousal/partner support," Accessed May 8, 2017

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