When a married couple gets a divorce, the court may award alimony (also known as spousal support) to one of the spouses, on the basis of an agreement between the husband and wife or a decision by the court itself. In the past, most alimony awards were given to former wives by breadwinning former husbands. However, times have changed, and the courts have adjusted spousal support awards. Many marriages today have two wage earners. Women may be less dependent and eligible to become self-supporting.  Men may be more involved in child rearing. Thus orders of alimony payments from the ex-wife to the ex-husband are increasing.  In California, spousal support is not mandatory in dissolution or legal separation proceedings. Courts have the discretion to deny spousal support altogether or to limit it in amount and duration according to the ability of both parties to provide for their own needs.

Many factors are taken into account when deciding the amount of spousal support.  This includes length of marriage. A marriage of 10 years or more is presumed to be a “marriage of long duration,” for which support could continue potentially indefinitely.  This has become a rarity.  For marriages of less than 10 years, a reasonable period to become self-sufficient is assumed to be half the length of the marriage.

The court is bound to consider 14 statutory factors in making a California spousal support order. Some of these factors are: marital standard of living, contributions to other spouse’s education or training, supporting spouse’s ability to pay, parties’ assets and debts, employability of custodial spouse versus the impact on the children, age and health of the parties and history of domestic violence.  As long as the statutory factors are considered and weighed according to each individual case, the ultimate decision regarding amount, duration and retaining spousal support jurisdiction rests within the court’s broad discretion. Unlike child support, which is more specific, each circumstance is unique in regards to determining spousal support.  Each factor does not necessarily carry the same weight from case to case.  Alimony is taxable to the recipient and deductible to the payor.

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