Marriage is considered by most to be a blessed event that binds two lives together. But no matter how much we all want to believe in happily ever after, the hard, cold truth is that a healthy percentage of marriages in the U.S. fail within fifteen years. No matter the reason — including age, family background, income and intimacy — some marriages just don’t last.
If you’re contemplating divorce, one thing that must be considered is whether to file for spousal support. There’s a misconception that spousal support, or alimony, is a given, when in reality, only ten to fifteen percent of divorces contain a claim for support. So, what is spousal support and what does it mean for you in the event of a divorce?
Spousal support is money paid from one spouse to another within a reasonable amount of time in order for both parties to sustain the standard of living established during the marriage. In other words, spousal support keeps a spouse from suffering a standard of living decrease due to the inability to secure stable employment or a job that affords them the lifestyle they are accustomed.
California is a no-fault divorce state, which means the circumstances behind the filing of divorce do not play a part in which party pays support. Factors that are considered include:
- Marketable skills and job market potential;
- How earning capacity is affected by long periods of unemployment;
- Whether training must be sought;
- Which partner can sustain the highest standard of living;
- Age, health, debts, property and tax impact; and
- The duration of the marriage.
That last factor is the most important, as it is one of the major factors in determining the length of spousal support. Though the judge has some discretion, California law dictates a difference between short- and long-term marriages.
A short-term marriage is one that dissolves within ten years. In this case, spousal support generally lasts for half the length of the marriage, which means if you were married for six years, support would last for three.
A long-term marriage is one that lasts over ten years. In this case, there is no absolute time limit, which means the judge may allow spousal support to continue into perpetuity, or until a petition for termination is presented to the court. This may include:
- A court order terminating the original order;
- The receiving spouse remarries, moves in with a partner (cohabitation), is promoted or receives a dramatic raise in pay; or
- The paying spouse loses a job, retires or receives a dramatic reduction in pay.
No matter the situation, when spousal support is sought in a divorce, legal separation or annulment, it’s always best to retain an attorney to protect you so that you don’t wind up losing more than you should.