How Alimony Decisions Are Made in California Family Courts
Spousal support or alimony is a court-ordered payment from a spouse or domestic partner to the other, which helps with their monthly expenses after a legal separation or divorce. There have been countless celebrity stories in California of spouses getting hefty spousal support awards.
For example, a judge ordered Kelly Clarkson, a successful singer and talk show host, to pay her ex-husband, Brandon Blackstock, $115,000 a month from her monthly income of $1.9 million.
Learning about the factors the court considers and the relevant laws about paying spousal support will help better understand the alimony decisions in the California family courts.
What Types of Spousal Support are There in California?
There are two types of spousal support, temporary and long-term. As soon as a legal separation is filed or divorce proceedings begin, a spouse with less income can ask for temporary support to take care of immediate financial needs.
With long-term or permanent support orders, the judicial system can order three kinds of spousal support, such as:
- A permanent alimony amount that one spouse will pay another.
- A reserve spousal support means no support to be paid now, but the court could order payment in the future.
- An end or terminate support, which would mean the courts no longer can award spousal support
Factors Considered by the Court When Making an Alimony Decision
Many factors are outlined in Ca. Fam. Code § 4320 in deciding if the spouse asking for support should receive alimony and what the amount should be. In addition to the need and ability to pay, other aspects of the marriage and what life will look like after the marriage are also to be considered.
The Length of the Marriage
Why is the length of marriage significant? Because it’s assumed the longer a marriage lasts, the longer it will take for a spouse to become self-supporting. For marriages lasting less than ten years, the support will continue for half of the length of the marriage.
In Clarkson’s and Blackstock’s case, the marriage lasted seven years. As a result, Blackstock should only receive $115,000 a month for three and a half years until January 2024.
If a marriage lasts over ten years, the support may last as long as one spouse needs it and the other can pay. In addition, alimony decisions are based on other factors.
Age and Health
Yes, age and health are considered when awarding spousal support and the time it will continue. For example, if the spouse has poor health or is at an age where earning an income is not possible, this can impact how much alimony to award and for how long.
Incomes and the Standard of Living While Married
If both spouses make an income, then it’s vital to ascertain how much each spouse makes to determine if spousal support is even necessary. Likewise, if the income of one spouse is lower than the other, but more is needed to maintain the same standard of living while married, this is also a consideration.
At the time of Clarkson’s and Blackstock’s divorce proceedings, Blackstone was a talent manager making about $500,000 a month, relatively paltry to Clarkson’s $1.9 million a month.
Maybe one spouse wasn’t employed, but their qualifications improve their chances of earning a decent income if applied. The California courts will decide on how much earning capacity is possible and how long it will take the spouse to make that amount.
To diminish his earning capacity in the eyes of the court, Blackstock said that he was getting out of the entertainment industry to become a rancher. However, as of 2022, he’s still a talent manager.
Accrued Property and Debt Before and During the Marriage
Since California is a community property state, assets and debts accrued during the marriage are divided equally between spouses. However, if one spouse earns little or no income and there is little property but a lot of debt to be divided up, this can make a case for a higher spousal support amount to help pay for an equal share of the debt.
Relevant Laws Governing the Payment or Denial of Spousal Support
Laws outlined in Ca. Fam. Code § 4320 to 4326 and Ca. Fam. Code § 4330 to 4339 determines the situations in which spousal support will be granted or denied. Here are some examples of reasons for denials:
- Support can be denied if a spouse has separate property, earns a substantial income, or the division of community property will provide sufficient support.
- Support can be denied, modified, or terminated if a spouse lives with a non-marital partner.
- There will be no payment of spousal support if there has been an attempted murder or the solicitation of murder of a spouse by the other spouse.
- A spousal support award will be denied to a spouse convicted of a domestic violence act against the other within the last five years, resulting in a probation term.
Tips for Presenting Evidence Regarding Financial Need of Spousal Support and Ability to Pay
When seeking spousal support at the trial, present documentation or testimony that financial support is needed. The evidence can back up the facts that maintaining the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage will not be possible because of your age, health, or lack of income. For example, bring receipts, credit card statements, and prior years’ tax returns to prove the marital standard of living.
Once the financial need has been proven, confirm that the soon-to-be-ex-spouse can pay for spousal support. Prove the ability to pay by presenting documentation, such as investment income statements, credit card statements, and bank statements.
Alimony Can Help Avoid Struggle When Maintaining A Lifestyle After a Divorce
Regarding the split-up between Clarkson and Blackstock, the spousal support situation, in that case, seems laughable. But too many spouses struggle and worry about how they will maintain their lifestyle after a divorce.
Knowing what the California family courts look at when deciding on how much spousal support to grant and for how long, and what evidence to bring to support financial distress claims will help get the financial aid needed to maintain the marital lifestyle even after the divorce.