The awarding of alimony, called “spousal support” in California, can be complicated, contentious, and stressful. In most cases, alimony was intended to be a temporary means of support for one party, and the other party had the means to provide it. When circumstances change in a divorced couple’s life, or when the terms of the court order have been met, spousal support may be modified or terminated.
Karen S. Brown is a Certified Legal Specialist in Family Law helping clients in Los Angeles County and beyond navigate divorce, child custody, and spousal support. If you are paying alimony or if you are receiving it, you need to know why and how that support may end.
There are four types of spousal support awarded in California:
Temporary support is usually awarded to the lower-earning spouse during the divorce process to help that spouse with living expenses during the transition.
Permanent support may be awarded in a long-term marriage to a spouse who is unable to enter the workforce due to advanced age, illness, or disability. Permanent support is rare.
Rehabilitative support is the most common type, typically awarded to a spouse who spent the marriage at home raising children while the other spouse was the primary wage earner. Rehabilitative support is provided for a period during which the spouse can obtain any necessary education or training to be employable and become self-sufficient.
Reimbursement support may be awarded when one spouse supported the other while that spouse furthered their education. The premise is that the advanced degree would benefit both spouses in the marriage, but in a divorce, it only benefits the spouse who received the education.
Under California law, the alimony obligation of a paying spouse ceases upon the remarriage of the receiving spouse. The paying spouse is not required to file anything with the court or get the court’s approval to stop paying spousal support to the remarried party.
The receiving spouse must notify the paying spouse of the marriage and refund anything paid after the date of the marriage. Despite the termination, the paying spouse is nonetheless required to pay any alimony in arrears as of the date of the marriage.
Divorcing couples can agree to waive the California code that terminates alimony upon remarriage if they choose.
There is also a rebuttable presumption under California law that alimony may be reduced or terminated upon the cohabitation of the receiving spouse with another person, even if they are not married. In this case, the paying spouse will need to petition the court for a reduction or termination of spousal support. If the receiving spouse does not want the court to order the reduction or termination, that spouse has the burden of providing evidence as to why the support should continue.
As with remarriage, a couple can agree to waive termination of alimony upon the cohabitation of the receiving spouse.
Because spousal support is awarded based on the receiving spouse’s need for it and on the paying spouse’s ability to pay, certain circumstances may prompt the modification or termination of support.
The receiving spouse’s income may increase due to circumstances such as employment, inheritance, remarriage, or cohabitation. An increase in income may render support unnecessary.
The receiving spouse’s living needs may be lowered, for example, because they move to a less-expensive home, pay off a mortgage, or recover from a medical condition. If the spouse needs less support, the court will consider modifying or terminating it.
If the receiving spouse dies or moves and cannot be located, the court can order a termination of spousal support.
The Law Office of Karen S. Brown has worked with hundreds of family law clients in Los Angeles County, Ventura County, Orange County, San Bernardino County, Beverly Hills, Encino, Studio City, Hancock Park, Santa Monica, South Bay, Pacific Palisades, Brentwood, Santa Monica, Torrance, and Long Beach.