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California spousal and partner support

When a California couple legally separates or divorces, this may invoke very specific monetary support rights. The court may order a spouse or domestic partner to pay the other party a particular amount of financial support. This is called "spousal support." The term is known as "partner support" in domestic partnerships. The term "alimony" refers to the same right.

Generally, the right to spousal or partner support is initiated by a court case. The purpose is to provide support to a party who is in need after a change in his or her legal family status. Support is often associated with legal separation, divorce, annulment or domestic violence matters. While such case is pending, one can request temporary spousal or partner support. Judges often use a formula to calculate support amounts for temporary orders. However, once a legal separation or divorce is finalized, a permanent support order is implemented.

A formula is not used to determine the amount of permanent spousal or partner support at the end of a family law matter. Instead, California judges must consider factors under California Family Code section 4320. In this analysis, courts examine some of the following issues:

  • The duration of the partnership or marriage
  • One's needs based on the standard of living maintained during the partnership or marriage
  • The income of each party (and each party's ability to protect or keep the quality of living that was experienced during partnership or marriage)
  • The relative health of the parties
  • Property
  • Debts
  • The ultimate earning capacity of each party
  • Whether a party's career was affected by homemaking responsibilities during the partnership or marriage (for example, one spouse or partner was unemployed during the partnership or marriage in order to take care of childrearing responsibilities)
  • Whether domestic violence was an issue in the relationship
  • Whether one party helped the other in obtaining an education, special training or professional license

These are just a few of the factors that courts consider in determining support payment obligations. Ultimately, the amount for each support matter is determined on a case-by-case basis. The analysis depends on the transformation one's financial status after a separation or divorce. Once a judge assesses the aforementioned factors, the spousal or partner support order becomes a part of the final legal separation or divorce decree.

Many rights and responsibilities are addressed within the separation and divorce processes. If you are confronting a family law issue of your own, you may consider meeting with a qualified family law attorney in your area. The legal system is complex and as you move forward, you may need professional support.


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