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How is alimony determined in California?

When many California couples divorce, one spouse asks for alimony or spousal support. If a divorcing couple is on amicable terms, they may be able to work this out between themselves with the help of their attorneys or a mediator. This is still done via a written agreement, but it keeps the decision out of the hands of a judge.

Note that spousal support is different than child support. One or both parents may be required to pay to cover the cost of raising their children, or as with spousal support, work out an agreement on their own.

In many cases, California couples aren't able to reach an agreement on how much, if anything, one spouse owes another. If the matter goes before a court, there are two key factors that the court will consider.

The court considers each spouse's gross monthly income. This includes salary, commissions, bonuses, trust income, investment dividends and other sources of income.

The length if the marriage is another key factor. In California, 10 years is considered a milestone of sorts. If a marriage has passed the 10-year mark, a spouse may have to pay alimony for considerably longer than if the marriage did not last for 10 years. If the marriage endured for less than 10 years, no spouse can be ordered to pay alimony for more than half as long as the marriage lasted.

Naturally, many spouses time the divorce to avoid hitting that 10-year mark and potentially face a lifetime of alimony payments. In the much-publicized, yet seemingly amicable break-up of actors Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck, however, the pair announced their divorce just after hitting the benchmark of what is considered a "long-term" marriage under the law.

Of course, these aren't the only factors that judges consider when awarding alimony. They may also look at:

-- Age and health of the spouses

-- The potential earning capacity of the spouse seeking alimony

-- The standard of living that the couple had during the marriage

-- A criminal conviction, particularly for domestic violence, by the person seeking alimony

However you and your spouse work out any spousal support, child support and other financial agreements in a divorce, it's essential to have sound legal guidance throughout the process.

Source: Huffington Post, "Divorce Confidential: Alimony -- Are You On The Hook?," Caroline Choi, Nov. 13, 2015

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