If you and your spouse obtain a divorce in the state of California, could you be ordered to pay alimony? What if the amount you are ordered to pay isn’t fair? How is an alimony amount determined by the court? And what happens if you’ve been ordered by the court to pay alimony, and you don’t? If you’re considering a divorce in California – or if you are already paying or receiving alimony – keep reading to learn more about alimony rights and obligations in this state.

Obtaining a divorce in California can be a complicated legal procedure. If you divorce in Southern California, you should be advised and represented from the beginning by an experienced Long Beach divorce attorney. California is a “no-fault” divorce state, so neither spouse in a divorce is obligated to prove that the other did anything wrong or is “at-fault.”

If you are ordered by the court to pay alimony – the law in California calls it “spousal support” – as part of a divorce settlement, you may feel the ruling is unfair. An experienced Long Beach divorce attorney can review your existing spousal support order – whether you are paying the alimony or receiving it – to determine if it’s appropriate and fair. If it isn’t, your attorney can help you seek a change or a “modification” of the court order.

Unlike child support, which virtually everyone agrees is important, spousal support is a controversial topic both inside the courtroom as well as in the court of public opinion. Some would say that if a marriage has endured for a decade or more, alimony should be permanent. Others are critics who would abolish spousal support altogether.

HOW DOES SPOUSAL SUPPORT WORK? HOW ARE AMOUNTS DETERMINED?

In a California divorce, when one partner in the marriage has not worked outside the home or has worked only part-time in order to raise children and/or support the other partner’s career, that partner may seek spousal support. The sum that a court awards will hinge on each divorcing partner’s marital and financial history, income, debts, and assets.

During a divorce, if spouses can mutually agree about alimony, a court will usually accept their agreement. But when alimony is in dispute, the court will determine the terms and conditions of the alimony arrangement. When divorcing partners can agree on an alimony arrangement or on other areas of potential dispute, they save time and legal fees, and they avoid the acrimony and aggravation of having the dispute played out in a courtroom.

In some California divorces, spousal support is ordered temporarily; in other divorces in this state, spousal support is called “permanent.” As a general rule, when a marriage has lasted less than ten years, the alimony is temporary, and payments last for half the length of the marriage. For longer marriages, generally speaking, no time limit for alimony payments is imposed and the alimony is considered “permanent.”

IS ALIMONY EVER REALLY PERMANENT?

But even “permanent” alimony usually does not last for life. When either ex-partner’s life situation changes after a divorce, either ex can request a modification of the court order that spells out the alimony arrangement. In southern California, an experienced Long Beach divorce attorney can help you request an alimony modification.

If you’ve been ordered to make spousal support payments by a California court, the one thing that you cannot do is to stop making payments. It does not matter if you’ve lost your job or if you’ve been unable to work due to an injury. You must request a modification of the spousal support order. If you stop making alimony payments, you could be subject to severe legal action.

What can an ex-spouse do if he or she isn’t receiving the spousal support ordered by the court? If your ex isn’t paying you what the court has ordered, you may have to return to the court accompanied by an experienced Long Beach family law attorney. You and your attorney will have to offer evidence that your ex has not paid or has not paid completely or on time. If your ex-partner’s delinquency is causing financial hardship, you’ll be able to explain that to a judge.

HOW CAN CALIFORNIA COURTS COMPEL ALIMONY PAYMENTS?

An ex-spouse’s failure to pay court-ordered alimony payments can have considerable legal consequences in California. The court can order a wage garnishment, where a percentage of your ex-spouse’s wages is automatically diverted to you through the court. The court can also levy your ex-partner’s bank account and intercept his or her tax refunds.

If your ex-spouse still does not comply with the alimony order and make payments as scheduled, a judge can hold your ex in contempt of court, and in some cases, even order jail time. Drastic legal measures, however, are not always necessary. An experienced family lawyer may be able to help you as a negotiator or as a mediator, and in many cases, an acceptable agreement can be reached with your ex without legal pressure.

If your ex-spouse is already delinquent and currently owes you alimony, do not make any private arrangement with your ex regarding the delinquent payments. Once a divorce is finalized, a judgment or a settlement is in place, and if an alimony order has been issued by the court, an unofficial alimony agreement will have no legal status and will not be enforceable.

HOW IS SPOUSAL SUPPORT TERMINATED?

Ex-partners who pay spousal support often ask the court to end that support after a number of years, and that request is often granted. When spousal support is no longer needed or is no longer appropriate, the ex-spouse who has been paying spousal support has every right to request a court order terminating that support.

Spouses intending to divorce in California should also know that if you are seeking spousal support, and if you have a criminal conviction for domestic violence within the preceding five years, the law in California law grants judges the discretion to deny a spousal support request or to reduce the amount that an ex-spouse would otherwise be eligible to receive.

If you need legal representation right now to help you obtain the spousal support payments that a court has ordered, speak at once with an experienced Long Beach divorce attorney who routinely helps clients enforce or modify spousal support orders. During and after a divorce, effective legal representation is not only imperative – it’s also your legal right.