Does It Matter Who Files for Divorce First in California?

Although spousal support is not as common as it used to be, it’s an important part of divorce for many couples. This is because both the higher-earning spouse and the spouse who earns less are invested in a fair agreement. Therefore, it’s important for everyone involved to understand what goes into determining spousal support in California.

What Is Spousal Support?

The spouse who earns more money pays spousal support to the spouse who earns less money during or after the divorce. These court-ordered payments help the spouse who earns less maintain their pre-divorce living standard for a reasonable amount of time. Spousal support is also commonly referred to as alimony.

What Are the Different Types of Spousal Support in California?

There are two types of spousal support in California: temporary and permanent.

Each type of spousal support is treated differently under California law, but neither type is automatic. For example, temporary spousal support is ordered during a divorce to maintain the living standard of the spouse who earns less while going through the divorce proceedings. The spouse who earns less is not immediately expected to get a higher-paying job or become financially independent. Rather, the judge seeks to maintain each spouse’s pre-divorce standard of living.

Permanent spousal support may or may not be ordered with the finalization of the divorce. This type of long-term spousal support helps the spouse who earns less maintain their standard of living for a reasonable time while they pursue financial independence. However, in some cases, due to age, illness, or other factors, the spouse who earns less may be unable to return to the workforce, and spousal support is ordered permanently.

Who Qualifies for Spousal Support in California?

In California, many factors are considered when determining if spousal support is appropriate and, if so, how much and for how long it should be ordered. Spousal support is most likely to be ordered when one spouse makes significantly less money than the other, and they wouldn’t be able to maintain the standard of living they’re accustomed to after the divorce. If one spouse took care of the household or children or put their career on hold for their marriage, they’re more likely to be awarded spousal support. If the spouse who earns less is used to a much higher standard of living than they would be able to achieve on their own, they’re also more likely to be awarded spousal support. Each spouse’s contributions to the marriage and future earning ability are considered when ordering spousal support.

Another avenue for securing spousal support in a divorce is for both partners to agree outside of court. In that case, the judge will order spousal support payments in the agreed-upon amount. Again, a mediator can help spouses negotiate an arrangement that satisfies everyone outside of court.

How Is Spousal Support Calculated in California?

A common guideline for calculating spousal support in California is 40% of the higher-earning spouse’s net monthly income subtracting any child support payments, and 50% of the net monthly income of the spouse who earns less. However, this guideline is only used by some counties in California. It may be used as a baseline, but the judge inspects each couple’s unique circumstances when calculating spousal support, taking into account:

  • Each spouse’s age
  • Each spouse’s health
  • The income of each spouse
  • Each spouse’s future earning ability
  • The assets and debts of each spouse
  • Each spouse’s contribution to the marriage
  • Standard of living during the marriage
  • Child custody arrangements
  • Any allegations of domestic abuse
  • Any other factors the court determines relevant and just

How Long Does Spousal Support Last in California?

While temporary spousal support ends when the divorce is finalized, permanent spousal support is more complicated. A reasonable amount of time for spousal support looks different for every couple. If the marriage lasted less than 10 years, the judge would typically order spousal support for up to half the length of the marriage. However, this can be adjusted, and other factors may be considered. Marriages lasting more than 10 years are considered long-term marriages, and there is no assumed end to spousal support payments. Rather, the judge examines the couple’s circumstances to determine what’s a reasonable amount of time.

How Are Spousal Support Payments Enforced in California?

For the spouse receiving spousal support payments, it’s important to receive those payments on time and in full. A spouse can face serious legal consequences if they fail to pay their court-ordered spousal support. The best way to handle late or missing spousal support payments is to hire an attorney to help you navigate California’s legal system and ensure you receive the payments owed to you.


Q: What Determines Spousal Support in California?

A: There are few hard and fast rules to spousal support in California, other than the higher-earning spouse paying the spouse who earns less. When determining spousal support, a judge will look at each spouse’s income, future earning ability, age, assets, debts, health, and other factors.

Q: How Often Is Spousal Support Awarded in California?

A: In most divorces, the judge does not order spousal support. Spousal support is most likely to be awarded if one spouse makes significantly more money than the other, and the spouse who earns less would not be able to easily enjoy the same standard of living they were accustomed to during the marriage.

Q: Is Spousal Support Mandatory in California?

A: Spousal support is not mandatory in California. Both parties may mutually agree to waive spousal support, or a judge may consider it unnecessary if both spouses can support themselves after the divorce.

Q: Does a Husband Have to Support His Wife During Separation in California?

A: Temporary spousal support, paid during the divorce to help the spouse who earns less maintain the status quo as much as possible, is not automatic or ordered in every case. However, the spouse who earns less often has pressing financial concerns during a divorce. Therefore, the judge will consider each couple’s unique situation when determining if temporary spousal support is necessary.

Contact McCunn Law Today

McCunn Law is an experienced group of attorneys with decades of experience in divorce law. Spousal support can be a contentious issue in many divorces, and we want to help you determine the best approach for your unique situation. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.