Guide to Spousal Support in California


When married couples in California divorce, the law mandates that they split assets and debts equally. But one partner may be unable to live a life that’s become habitual after the split. Spousal support (also called alimony) can help.

California courts are guided by codified rules when determining spousal support amounts and lengths. Couples wanting to change spousal support amounts must follow those same rules, which isn’t easy. 

Keep reading to find out how spousal support works in California and what you can do to make sure your split is fair to both parties. 

How does spousal support work in California?

A court-ordered payment one spouse makes to the other is spousal support, also known as alimony. These payments are designed to cover expenses incurred by a divorcing or divorced person who doesn't make enough money to keep the household running. 

Two types of spousal support are formally recognized in California:

  • Temporary support, which can begin right after you file and last until your divorce is final
  • Long-term support, which begins when your divorce ends and lasts per a judge's orders 

How do courts set spousal support amounts?

Divorcing couples often argue about how much one should pay the other. The court can step in and help reconcile these disagreements. The judge who steps in must follow the law in each case they hear. 

These are the rules and guidelines judges follow:

Temporary (or short-term) support

One member of a couple can ask a judge to set a short-term spousal support amount that lasts until the divorce is final. A judge looks at two facts:

  • The needs of the person who makes less money 
  • The ability of the other party to make spousal support payments 

Judges often use a simple formula to determine short-term spousal support payment amounts: Forty percent of the income of the high earner is determined. Fifty percent of the lower earner's income is subtracted from that. 

Long-term support

Determining how much spousal support payments should be after the divorce takes time, and judges must examine many more factors.

California's Family Code 4320 includes rules about spousal support. Judges must consider the following:

  •       How long your marriage lasted
  •       How old both parties are
  •       How healthy you both are
  •       How much you both make
  •       How much you're both capable of earning based on your skills, education, and job market
  •       Your standard of living as a married couple, including the car you drove, the house you owned, and what vacations you took
  •       How much property or debt you have
  •       Whether one of you helped the other get an education or job training
  •       Need and ability to pay
  •       The impact of tax laws
  •       History of abuse during your marriage
  •       Whether family childcare roles impacted either of your careers
  •       How your going to work would affect your children

Let’s compare a few examples:

  • Divorce 1 involves one person who is 50 and one who is 25. They have been married for 5 years, and the younger person hasn’t graduated from college and can’t get a job that allows for the same standard of living.
  • Divorce 2 involves people who are both 30. They make the same amount of money, have the same education, and don’t have children.

The divorce in the first example could involve spousal support. One partner clearly needs money to maintain a  lifestyle that the marriage made possible. The second might not involve spousal support at all.

How long will long-term support last?

There's no simple chart or graph that outlines how long spousal support lasts. Judges must examine a list of factors to make a determination.

A judge is trying to determine two important things:

  •       How long it will take for a supported spouse to become fully self-sufficient
  •       How much money the person will need until that happens

In general, for marriages lasting less than 10 years, payments last half the length of the union. The longer the marriage, the longer the payments will likely last. Spousal support can be permanent, but it rarely is.

Support ends when any of the following occurs:

  •       Both people agree to end support, and the court signs an agreement
  •       The court orders that payments stop
  •       The supported spouse gets married again
  •       Either spouse dies

What is the Gavron warning?

In 1988, a California court of appeals issued a ruling in a case involving some people with the last name Gavron. The courts determined that the existing spousal support orders should be overturned, as the recipient wasn’t trying to become financially independent. This ruling reverberates today as the Gavron warning, enshrined in state codes.

California Family Code 4330 says the person getting support should make "reasonable efforts" to become self-sufficient. That means someone getting spousal support payments should be doing things like taking vocational classes to pick up new skills or applying for jobs in their area of expertise.

After months or years of paying support, your ex could go to the court and suggest that you’re not meeting your obligations or trying to find work. Before ordering a shift in spousal support payments, the court could give you a chance to change your ways via a Gavron warning.

Judges can give this warning in writing or verbally, motivating people to do all they can to ensure the support ends as quickly as possible.

Eligibility criteria for spousal support

Spousal support in California isn’t mandatory. The court may decide that one party doesn’t need financial help from another.

We’ve already discussed how the court determines the amount of spousal support payments. There are also instances when courts may determine that spousal support isn’t appropriate at all.

In the following instances, the court may deny spousal support payments:

  •   One person has separate property or a job that earns enough that they don’t need support.
  •   One person has custody of the children and is supporting them, so the other party doesn’t need support.
  •   One spouse has been convicted of attempting to murder the other. The attacker doesn’t get spousal support.
  •   One spouse has been convicted of a violent sexual felony or domestic violence felony. The attacker doesn’t get spousal support.

How to change spousal support amounts

The court expects that couples will change after the end of their marriage, and often, that means payments should be altered, too. Sometimes, original court rulings include details about when payments shall end. But sometimes, couples must work together to alter the payments.

Two important methods exist for altering payments.

Work together

If you and your spouse agree on new terms, take the following steps:

  1. Write an agreement (called a stipulation) with your partner.
  2.  File it with the courts.
  3.  Wait for a judge to review it.

Find a Self-Help Center near you, and ask the team to help you with the forms. This isn't something you can do alone, as you'll need to consider the same set of items a judge does when setting the amount. And you'll need someone to help you get the documents in front of the judge. A help center can work with you on this with no fees involved.

Ask the court

If you can't agree on payment changes with your partner, you can work with the court and ask for rulings.

Take the following steps:

  1.  Start with paperwork. Fill out these forms: Request for Order (FL-300), Income and Expense Declaration (FL-150), Spousal or Domestic Partner Support Declaration (FL-157).
  2.  File your documents. Make two copies, bring them and documents that support your case to your court, and prepare for a $60 fee. The clerk will stamp your forms, write a hearing date on the FL-300, keep the original, and return your copies.
  3.  Find a server. Next, you must give your partner a copy of the forms through a process called serving. Identify someone not connected to the case, and ask that person to give your partner the forms at least 16 days before your hearing.
  4.  Serve the papers. Your server will hand your spouse a copy of your papers, a blank Responsive Declaration to Request for Orders (FL-320), and a blank Spousal or Domestic Partner Support Declaration Attachment (FL-157).
  5.  File proof of service. Ask your server to fill out the Proof of Personal Service (FL-330) and give it back to you. Make a copy, bring it to court, and file it. You must complete this process at least five days before your hearing.

Spousal support payment challenges everyone should know

Alimony or spousal support isn't mandatory in California, but if one person makes more money than the other, the court may require it.

If you have a prenuptial agreement, your spousal support plans can change dramatically. Some couples who want payments may not get them due to these agreements.

And finally, know that your choice to move in with another partner could impact your payments. If a spouse can prove that the other is living with someone else, that could impact the amount paid. It makes sense to research this before you move forward with another relationship so you are aware ahead of time.

How to pay spousal support

Most judges require payments to be extracted from a person's paycheck. The process is efficient, and it ensures that you can't forget payments or skip them in a moment of spite. This arrangement can also help you avoid the 10% penalty you'll pay if you skip payments.

Spousal support payments and your taxes

Paying and receiving spousal support can have a significant impact on your taxes in California, but not at the federal level.

Beginning in January 2019, the IRS no longer includes spousal support payments in taxes. So, the fees won't help or harm your federal taxes. This rule applies to divorces executed after December 31, 2018.

In California, payments are income for the recipients, and they're expenses for the payors. This could have a deep impact on the amount you owe the state each year. Meet with a tax preparer ahead of time to ensure you don’t have surprises come tax time.

Frequently asked questions

These are the questions we often hear about spousal support in California.

Can I live with someone new and still get spousal support?

Per California code, courts assume a decreased need for spousal support when one person is living with someone they’re not married to (a non-marital partner). If you move in with someone, you may get smaller payments or no paymnets.

Can I get remarried and keep my spousal support payments?

No. Spousal support ends when the person who is getting support remarries.

Do I have to keep paying spousal support after I get remarried?

Yes. Your marital status doesn’t automatically affect your obligation to make payments to your ex.

What if one party dies?

Spousal support payments end when either one of the parties dies.

Watch: Spousal Support During Divorce



Spousal Support. Judicial Branch of California.
Temporary Spousal Support. Judicial Branch of California.
Long-Term Spousal Support. Judicial Branch of California.
California Family Code 4330. Case Text.
Prepare an Agreement to Change Long-Term Support. Judicial Branch of California.
Ask to Change Your Long-Term Spousal Support Order. Judicial Branch of California.
Serve Your Request to Change Long-Term Spousal Support. Judicial Branch of California.
Paying Spousal Support. Judicial Branch of California.
Clarification: Changes to Deduction for Certain Alimony Payments Effective in 2019. (February 2022). IRS.
Alimony. State of California Franchise Tax Board.
Family Code, Division 9, Part 3. California Legislative Information.
In re Marriage of Gavron (1988). Justia.
California Family Code, FAM 4323. Find Law.
Divorce Specialists
After spending years in toxic and broken family law courts, and seeing that no one wins when “lawyer up,” we knew there was an opportunity to do and be better. We created Hello Divorce to the divorce process easier, affordable, and completely online. Our guiding principles are to make sure both spouses feel heard, supported, and set up for success as they move into their next chapter in life.