Divorce settlements often include spousal support, or alimony, to balance out uneven earnings between each party. Like many aspects of divorce, you can try to predict how much alimony you’ll pay or receive ahead of your court date, but a judge ultimately decides eligibility and terms of the support.

Hiring an attorney can help erase some of the uncertainty in divorce. And being aware of some of the factors that affect spousal support can help you prepare for your day in court.

Conditions of alimony

Alimony isn’t as simple as a higher-earning ex-spouse sharing income with a lower-earning ex-spouse. Some of the myths of how spousal support is determined include:

1.     A long marriage means permanent support: The length of your marriage can affect the duration of alimony granted in a divorce, but there isn’t a set length of marriage to length of alimony ratio in California. Typically, under state law, alimony lasts half the length of the marriage if the marriage was less than 10 years long. And if the marriage lasted 10 years or longer, the judge doesn’t have to set an end date for the spousal support. However, in either instance, the judge has the power to follow or stray from the state law’s “reasonable period of time” guideline.

2.     My ex cheated, I don’t owe them: Besides, length of marriage, there are several other factors that a judge must consider when granting alimony. Some of these factors include: the earning capacity of each party, the health and age of each spouse and if a spouse’s job would decrease the level of care they can provide to their children. But, if infidelity was committed by the lower-wage-earning spouse during the marriage, the judge can’t deny spousal support solely on that basis.  

3.     It’s all in the judge’s hands: Yes and no. The judge will have a final say, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t come to court prepared. Once you have an open case, you can devise a written and signed agreement with your ex that notes the amount, duration and payment method of the spousal support you see fit.

Your marriage may not have worked out how you hoped it would, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fight for the support you need during the divorce process.