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How Is Alimony Calculated in California

How Is Alimony Calculated in California?

Alimony has a significant role in California divorces. Understanding how spousal support works is crucial if you are going through a divorce or plan on legal proceedings. So, how is alimony calculated in California?

Let’s dive in and find out.

Family Law – Understanding Alimony in California

Alimony or spousal support is a court-ordered payment that one former spouse provides for the other to help cover their monthly expenses. In California, the payment ordered between married persons is called spousal support.

If you plan on getting divorced, you may wonder if you or your spouse have the grounds to file for spousal support. You want to protect yourself and your rights, and the best way to do so is by deciding on an expert California family attorney.

Having one of our family law experts by your side will help you understand and navigate this difficult period. If you wonder how spousal support is calculated in California, and if you qualify, contact us, and we’ll lend our expertise.

Family Law - Understanding Alimony in California
Source: / Photo Contributor: fizkes

Types of alimony in California 

According to California laws, there are two types of alimony – temporary spousal support and long-term spousal support. Temporary spousal support is a court-ordered payment while the divorce case is ongoing.

In the long-term spousal support, the judge orders it at the end of the case. Both types are usually on a monthly payment basis.

The difference is temporary alimony ends when the divorce is finalized, while long-term alimony can last for years. 

Temporary spousal support 

In California, the less-income spouse can ask for support when the case is filed. You and your spouse get the chance to agree on the support amount, but if you cannot agree, the judge presiding over your case will decide the amount. 

The judge will decide the amount depending on:

  • The needs of the spouse with less money
  • The ability to pay for the spouse with more money

Long-term spousal support 

Long-term alimony is also referred to as permanent spousal support. Even though it is called permanent alimony, it does not mean it will last permanently. 

Instead, the judge will decide the duration of the spousal support and enter it into the final judgment. Long-term alimony is more common if:

  • You and your spouse had a long marriage over ten years. 
  • You or your spouse earn significantly more than the other

Long-term spousal support may end when and if:

  • You and your spouse agree in writing on the end date, and the court accepts the agreement
  • The court orders that the support ends
  • The spouse receiving alimony remarries
  • The death of either spouse

Factors considered by California courts in alimony determination

Length of marriage

The length of your marriage is among the first factors the judge may consider when deciding the duration of the alimony. The longer your marriage, the longer the spousal support may last. 

In California, judges start with some basic assumptions when deciding the duration, such as:

  • If your marriage lasted less than 10 years, the support may last half the length of your marriage.
  • There’s no reasonable assumption if your marriage lasts more than 10 years – the judge may order the support to last for as long as one spouse needs the support and the other has the ability to pay.
Factors considered by California courts in alimony determination
Source: / Photo Contributor: THICHA SATAPITANON

Income disparity between spouses

Another consideration for the judge when deciding spousal support is how the income disparity affects you and your spouse. 

If you or your spouse earn significantly more than the other, the judge may order support to offset the difference. This is a temporary alimony order for paying the fees during the court proceedings.

If you or your spouse did not work and relied on the other’s support during the marriage, the alimony could be long-term and based on:

  • How long the supported spouse may take until they become self-supporting
  • The amount they may need until they become self-supporting

Standard of living during marriage

If one spouse’s standard of living is significantly impacted after divorce, they may ask for alimony to maintain it. The judge may decide the amount needed to maintain the same or similar lifestyle based on whether the paying spouse can afford it.

Contribution to the career or education of the other spouse

When determining spousal support, the judge will consider how much the supported party contributed to the education or career of the spouse who will pay alimony.

If you or your spouse made high contributions that led to the current financial situation, the judge may order alimony as a form of reimbursement. For example, if the supported spouse paid for their spouse’s education, or they supported the household while the other spouse got their education. 

Health and age of each spouse

If one spouse has high medical bills that they cannot keep up on payments after the divorce, the judge may decide alimony based on the balance of hardships of the supported spouse. Another contributing factor in the decision besides health is the spouses’ ages.

Any history of domestic violence

California law requires judges to consider any history of domestic violence when ordering alimony. The law prohibits spousal support to anyone with a recent felony conviction for domestic violence or sexual violence against their spouse. 

Tax implications

California and the federal government have different tax laws regarding alimony. According to California income taxes, the spouse paying support can deduct the payments, while the spouse receiving support must report them as income.

Federal income tax laws for all spousal support orders made after January 1, 2019, are:

  • The spouse paying support cannot deduct the payments on federal income tax forms
  • The spouse receiving support does not have to report the payments as income on federal income tax forms

How Is Alimony Calculated in California?

Calculation methods for alimony in California

Formulaic calculations

In many California courts, judges often use a guideline formula to determine the need and ability to pay. The formula is common for temporary spousal support. The judge calculates the monthly support to equal 40% higher earner’s net monthly income minus 50% lower earner’s net monthly income

The formula is only a starting point, and the alimony amount may vary depending on:

  • If you and your spouse pay for your child to attend college
  • If either of you has high medical bills
  • If you have a large amount of savings 

Judicial discretion

For long-term alimony, when spouses cannot agree on a support amount, it is decided with judicial discretion. The judge will make the decision for the amount based on the length of the marriage and the financial disparity between the spouses.

The final decision is entered in the Judgment when the divorce case is decided to finalize it officially. With judicial discretion, there are three possible spousal support orders:

  • The judge can order an amount of support that one spouse pays the other
  • Order reserve spousal support, meaning the current order is $0, but the court could decide to change that at a later date
  • End the ability of the court to award support

Mediation and negotiation

If you and your spouse want to avoid the court deciding for you, you can use mediation and negotiation. We offer our clients the opportunity to sit down with one of our experienced mediators and decide on a fair solution with the help of an unbiased third party.

If you agree on alimony with the mediator’s help, we will help you draft your agreement and once both parties sign the documents, we will file them with the court.

Mediation and negotiation
Source: / Photo Contributor: Nopphon_1987

Use of software or tools in determining alimony amounts

There are many court-certified tools and software that our lawyers use to help you calculate the alimony amount for your case. In California, the most often used alimony calculators are:


How is alimony calculated in California? Generally, most judges use the starting guideline formula mentioned above for temporary alimony orders. But for long-term alimony, the judge considers the length of the marriage and the financial situation of both you and your spouse.

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