Alimony and Divorce in Los Angeles

What are the basics of divorce in California?

California is a “no fault” state, meaning that the spouse requesting the divorce is not obligated to prove that the other spouse committed any wrongdoing. To secure a no fault divorce, the petitioning spouse need only state that the couple have “irreconcilable differences.”

In straightforward cases (e.g. the separation is not contentious), the spouses may opt for a “collaborative divorce” in which both parties hire a mediator or their own attorneys for the purpose of reaching an out-of-court settlement. However, in more contentious cases, it is definitely recommended that each party retain counsel to represent their interests in the family court proceedings.

Also, a summary (a/k/a “simple”) dissolution is available in California if the couple meets the following requirements:

1) Have been married for five years or less (from the date of marriage to date of separation).

2) Have no children together that were born before or during the marriage (and they are not expecting a child now).

3) Do not own land or any buildings.

4) Do not rent land or any buildings (except for current place of residence and as long as the couple does not have a 1-year lease or option to buy).

5) Do not have more than $6,000 in debt that was acquired since the date of marriage (a/k/a the “community obligations”). Note: this does not include car loans.

6) Have less than $41,000 in property gained during the marriage (a/k/a the “community property”). Note: cars do not count toward this number.

7) Do not have separate property totaling more than $41,000.

8) Agree that spousal support will not be paid to either spouse.

9) Have executed an agreement dividing the property (including cars) between the spouses.

10) One or both spouses have (i) resided in California for the past six months and (ii) in the county where the summary dissolution is filed for the past three months. If these residency requirements are not met, then the couple must go through the normal legal separation process, or they can opt to wait until the residency requirement is met.

How is property divided in a divorce?

California is a “community property” state, which means that all property gained by the couple during the marriage is deemed shared property and will be divided 50/50 between the parties. A couple can decide to apportion the property according to different percentages, but a judge must approve the agreement and issue a final order before it becomes binding. Also, before a couple is married they can execute a prenuptial agreement that clearly states how property will be divided in the event of a divorce.

What is “spousal support” / “alimony”?

When a couple is divorced in the State of California, monthly “spousal support” a/k/a “alimony” payments can be owed pursuant to an order by the court or by agreement between the parties as part of a settlement.

These payments are intended to ease any unfair economic burdens that may occur for the spouse earning a low wage or no wage after the divorce. The amount of the spousal support and length of time it must be paid can vary depending on various factors, including:

1) Age, health, and financial situation of the spouses.

2) Earning ability of the spouses.

3) Standard of living during the marriage. (For example, if the spouse seeking support became accustomed to a high standard of living during the marriage, this may increase the amount of support owed.)

4) The length of the marriage.

5) Financial ability of the spouse paying support to support himself/herself.

Are there different types of spousal support / alimony?

There are various types of alimony which are set forth in California Family Code Section 4320. They include the following:

1) Temporary Alimony – this is money paid from spouse to the other prior to the divorce being finalized.

2) Rehabilitative Alimony – this is alimony paid until the spouse receiving alimony can support himself/herself.

3) Permanent Alimony – these are continuous alimony payments that are made until the spouse receiving alimony dies or becomes remarried.

4) Reimbursement Alimony – these payments are to reimburse a spouse for expenses of the other (for example, such as tuition payments).

5) Lump-sum Alimony – this is alimony that is ordered instead of a property settlement. In these cases, it does not matter if the spouse becomes remarried or cohabitates with someone else.

How can spousal support payments be enforced?

Spousal support payments are more difficult to enforce in comparison to child support payments, for example. When child support payments are not made, there are many ways to recover outstanding monies, such as the garnishing the parent’s wages, placing liens on accounts and other property, etc. In contrast, when a spouse is not paid spousal support, his/her only recourse is to take the other party to court and ask for an order of contempt.