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Alimony vs. Spousal Support: Understanding the Difference

Posted by Charles J. Morris, Jr. | Sep 05, 2023 | 0 Comments

Understanding alimony law is important for anyone going through a divorce. With the changing dynamics of family life and social norms, laws on spousal support have become increasingly complex. This complexity leaves many unsure of what will happen to them in their divorce.

To help clarify these issues, we're offering this overview of California's alimony law.

An Introduction to Alimony in CA

Generally, the term “alimony” refers to financial support that one spouse pays the other after a divorce.

California has guidelines for the amount of alimony to be paid. These standards consider several factors.

When making an alimony ruling, judges look at:

  • The length of the marriage
  • The income of each spouse
  • The lifestyle to which the spouse is accustomed
  • The earning capacity of both parties, including their education, work history, skills, age, health, and so on

Types of Alimony Available in California

The state offers several types of alimony, depending on the circumstances.

Here is a brief explanation of each.

Temporary Alimony

Judges can order these payments during proceedings, keeping one spouse financially stable before the divorce is finalized.

Permanent Alimony

This is an ongoing payment, typically awarded after a long-term marriage ends. Permanent alimony is just as it sounds. It lasts until either party dies or the receiving party remarries.

Rehabilitative Alimony

These payments last for a pre-determined time. The goal is to help the lower-earning spouse become self-sufficient, no longer needing payments.

Reimbursement Alimony

This alimony provides compensation. It pays one party back for expenses the other party incurred during the marriage.

Is There a Difference Between Spousal Support and Alimony?

The terms "spousal support" and "alimony" are often used interchangeably. There is no real difference between the two. Both terms refer to financial support one spouse pays the other after a divorce or separation.

The terms may be used differently in different states. Even when they are, the differences are typically minor and very technical. A layperson can comfortably use both terms to mean the same thing.

Regardless of the label, this support helps both parties maintain a fair standard of living after the end of their relationship.

How to File for Alimony in California

  1. Determine whether you are eligible for alimony. Doing so requires evaluating your finances and your future earning potential.
  2. Within this determination, calculate whether you will need support during the divorce. If so, you should seek temporary spousal support now. While going through divorce proceedings, you can request a more permanent form of support.
  3. To file for either type of support, you must fill out the appropriate paperwork. As part of your filing, you will provide documentation of your income, assets, and expenses.
  4. Seek the assistance of a family law attorney to guide you through the process.

Modifying a Previous Spousal Support Ruling in California

Court orders are intended to be final, but they are also based on your current circumstances. Life can take unexpected turns, rendering some court rulings obsolete.

In California, either party can request an alimony modification when there has been a significant change in your life. For instance, you could be laid off or demoted through no fault of your own. This drastic shift in income may make it impossible to keep up with your previous payments.

Alternatively, you could experience a sudden advancement in your career. Your former spouse could file for more support in that case.

Simply experiencing financial difficulty may not be enough to warrant a modification. Courts do not take modifications lightly, and you must prove that an alimony alteration is necessary. Make sure to consult with a lawyer to determine whether changing spousal support payments is possible.

Morris Law Firm is here to help you achieve a fair spousal support agreement. You can reach our firm by contacting us online or calling us at (626) 914-2791.

About the Author

Charles J. Morris, Jr.

A Certified Family Law & Divorce Attorney For more than 25 years, Mr. Morris has represented the rights of others in cases ranging from family law to estate planning. As a certified family law specialist, he is uniquely qualified to help his clients navigate their circumstances and pursue soluti...


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