Spousal support, commonly called alimony, often causes contention in divorce proceedings. The judge may order one spouse to pay the other spouse a monthly payment for a specified time period.

Before moving forward with a divorce, understand the spousal support process in California and how it may impact your finances.

The alimony process

The California spousal support process strives to provide lower income spouses with the means to survive financially after divorce. The judge decides the length and amount of alimony payments based on the length of the marriage, each person’s earning capacity and how long it will take the partner receiving alimony to become financially self-sufficient.

Either spouse can ask for alimony in his or her California petition for divorce. The state distinguishes between permanent support, which continues after the divorce becomes final, and temporary support, which extends only for the duration of the case.

Calculation of support payments

Temporary support awards follow guidelines established at the county level. Most counties, including Sacramento, start with 40% of the net income of the spouse with higher earnings. The court subtracts child support payments and 50% of the other spouse’s net income to reach a monthly payment.

Permanent support may but does not necessarily follow this formula. For marriages of less than 10 years, spousal support usually extends for half the length of the marriage. If you stayed together for six years, one person may receive alimony for three years.

For longer marriages, the judge will review all the facts of your case to make a spousal support determination. He or she considers each person’s education, contributions to the marriage including child care and financial support, the presence of domestic violence or abuse, the current standard of living, the age and health status of each person and their current and future projected earnings. Providing detailed information about these factors can support a request for alimony established by your divorce petition.