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Getting divorced? Here are five things you should know about alimony

Alternately referred to as "spousal support" or "maintenance", alimony is a form of financial support issued as payments made from one spouse to the other following their divorce.

1. Every alimony award is different

The amount of alimony you will receive or pay id determined by a variety of factors and is unique to each divorcing couple. In California, courts must look at the twelve factors listed in the California Family Code. These factors range from the standard of living that each party was accustomed to during the marriage to the job skills the lower-income spouse has, and even the length of the marriage.

Typically, alimony is awarded to the spouse who is less financially secure either because they earn less income or because they have been out of the workforce while raising children and/or managing a household. The length of the marriage can also influence the decision, as well as each spouse's marketable skills and potential ability to earn income today and in the future.

2. There are two types of alimony: Temporary and permanent

Short term and rehabilitative alimony both fall into the category, "temporary alimony." Short term alimony will be awarded with a set end date, usually of only a few years. For a spouse who will need to pursue education or training in order to rejoin the workforce, the court may award rehabilitative support to be paid until the spouse is employed.

Long term or permanent alimony is usually awarded when a marriage lasted ten or more years. In the case of long term alimony, the court may order payments to be made indefinitely, or until certain conditions occur - for example, payments might stop when the economic situation of the parties changes.

3. Alimony is becoming less common in divorces

The concept of alimony is out-of-date for many families. An increase in dual-income families and spouses who have equal education means that more divorces than ever are between spouses with an equal opportunity to make sufficient money to sustain themselves. Today, alimony is most common in divorces with long-term marriages and those where one spouse has been the primary breadwinner. Whether alimony is appropriate in your case depends on your unique circumstances.

4. Alimony can change over time

If spouses can agree on the details, it is possible for them to include a provision in their settlement that would set the terms for modifying the payment amounts in the future. They might choose not to allow a change in the amount unless they can agree on it later or that the amount can only be raised if one spouse's income increases by a certain percentage. If no provision is included in the settlement, the court may approve modification of the amount on a temporary basis, depending on the circumstances that led to the request. There are also situations where alimony commonly ceases, such as when one spouse remarries.

5. Alimony is not just for women

More women are the primary breadwinners in their families than ever before, making alimony payments to men also a more common occurrence. Read our blog on this topic here.

Learn the laws in your state

Laws regarding the scheduling, amount and modification of alimony payments can differ greatly from one state to another. Taking the time to find out how your state handles alimony will definitely be to your benefit if problems arise somewhere down the line. One of the ways to do this is to speak with a lawyer experienced in spousal support.

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