Updated: Jun 9
For many couples going through a divorce or legal separation, alimony (called "spousal support" in California) is a highly contested issue both during the proceedings and for the final judgment; there are many factors which affect both types of orders. This article is specifically about "permanent" spousal support as opposed to "temporary" support (support ordered during the pendency of the proceedings).
"Permanent" or "judgment" spousal support is that which is included in the final judgment--the issues surrounding permanent support are the amount to be paid and the duration for which it should be paid (it's not necessarily "permanent" until the end of time). Although temporary spousal support is easily calculated with a court-approved software, permanent spousal support is much more nuanced.
There are several factors, including tax implications, to consider regarding permanent spousal support, either as the receiver or payor; the factors to which more weight should be given might also change depending on if you're negotiating support as part of settlement efforts or if you're asking the court to issue an order. Working with a skilled lawyer will help you understand your rights while making decisions supported by California divorce laws.
If the parties are unable to reach an agreement, upon a motion filed by either party or at trial, the court will issue permanent spousal support orders. There are many factors the court will consider when establishing a permanent spousal support award, specifically those under California Family Code 4320, which include:
The marital standard of living;
Contributions to the payer’s career and education;
The payer’s ability to pay;
The needs to live up to the marital standard;
The separate property of both parties;
The duration of the marriage;
How dependent children are affected;
The age and health of the parties;
Documented domestic violence matters between the couple;
Hardships to both parties;
The goal that a receiver must become self-supporting, for short-term marriages;
Criminal convictions of domestic violence; and
Any other relevant considerations.
The court considers the above factors and information provided in pleadings or through oral testimony to determine a reasonable amount of spousal support to be paid and the duration for which it should be paid. The information provided in pleadings and through testimony must be accurate and thorough, as it may impact future payments. One of the largest issues considered in issuing an order of permanent spousal support is the duration of the marriage.
The Role of Defining Short-Term and Long-Term Marriages
One significant factor that California family courts consider, Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties, included, is the duration of the marriage. The role of spousal support in short- and long-term marriages primarily center on the length of time the marriage lasted as described below:
Short-term marriages: Short-term marriages are marriages that lasted for less than ten years. In general, courts do not order permanent spousal support to continue for more than half the term of the marriage.
Long-term marriages: Long-term marriages are marriages that lasted for ten years or more. In general, courts do not set a definite date of termination. Instead, parties may return to court for a modification or termination if there is a change of circumstances.
Duration of Spousal Support after a Long-Term Marriage
Even when it was a marriage of long duration, there are a few events that terminate permanent spousal support in California, including death of either party and remarriage of the supported party—in some instances cohabitating with a partner may qualify as a change of circumstances to modify or terminate a spousal support order.
As the supporting spouse, it’s imperative to present all information available to you that the supported spouse has marketable skills and training which are easily employable. Proving such may allow the court to issue a Gavron Warning to the supported spouse requiring them to make an effort to become self-supporting within a reasonable amount of time. An issued Gavron Warning strengthens a motion for modification or termination if the supported party has not made reasonable or substantial efforts to become self-supporting over a period of time. However, there are cases where a Gavron Warning may be inappropriate and premature, such as if a spouse was out of the workforce for a long period of time—this is determined on a case by case basis and it’s recommended you consult with an attorney in your county to determine the crucial aspects of your permanent spousal support issue.
Tax Implications of California Permanent Spousal Support
Prior to passing the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), permanent spousal support payments were tax-deductible for the payer, and taxable income for the receiving party.
However, for spousal support orders issued after December 31, 2018, spousal support is no longer tax-deductible or treated as taxable income on federal taxes, however it is still tax-deductible to the payor and treated as taxable income to the payee on California state taxes.
If you have a permanent spousal support order issued before December 31, 2018 that you need to modify, the tax-deductible/taxable status for spousal support payments does not change.
Discuss Your California Spousal Support Arrangements
It’s vital to recognize that there are numerous considerations and implications, whether you are paying or receiving spousal support. If you have questions regarding your legal strategy, you can speak confidentially with Channe G. Coles for clarity and specific legal advice. By choosing Law Office of Channe G. Coles, you will have guidance throughout the process and all of your questions will be answered.
Call us today to schedule your consultation.
Legal Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is not intended to create, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship. The information herein is not intended to be anything other than the educated opinion of the author. This article should not be relied upon as legal advice. Attorney is licensed to practice law only in the State of California, and the information provided is based solely on California Law unless otherwise stated.