Kelly Chang (Family Law Attorney, Law Offices of Kelly Chang) gives expert video advice on: What is "alimony"?; Who has a right to alimony?; What factors are considered when a judge decides to award alimony? and more...
What is "alimony"?
Alimony is what's known as spousal support in California. It's basically what you're obligated to pay your spouse (if you've been supporting her during the marriage) after the marriage ends. Alimony is based on the concept that during the marriage you have a duty to support your spouse, and then after the marriage you still might have a duty to support your spouse, depending on a variety of factors.
Who has a right to alimony?
Technically, no one has a right to alimony. It really depends on the factors. Unlike child support, there is not a simple calculation. Alimony depends on the length of the marriage, the age of the parties, whether both parties are working, etc. There are a variety of factors. In California, Family Code Section 432 dictates the factors of awarding spousal support, so it really depends.
What factors are considered when a judge decides to award alimony?
Some of the factors, not all, are the age of the parties, the length of the marriage, and whether both parties work (their earning capacities). In some states, it depends on whether you cheated. In fault states, you might have instances of higher alimony if you were unfaithful, but not in California.
How long will I have to pay alimony?
In Los Angeles, the general rule is, if it's a short-term marriage, which is defined as a marriage under 10 years, you will usually receive alimony for half the length of the short-term marriage; if you were married for eight years, you'd pay or receive alimony for up to four years. If you have been married long-term (and that's a marriage defined as being over 10 years in California), you're entitled for lifetime alimony.
How are "short-term" and "long-term" marriages legally different?
It's a law in California; a long-term marriage is defined as a marriage that exceeds 10 years. So, when you are talking about long-term marriage versus short-term marriage, you're talking about a lot more rights. One of the rights is spousal support. It's presumed if you're in a long-term marriage, you would have a right to 'forever' spousal support. Those types of orders are recalled upon remarriage, death, or further court order.
Can alimony awards be modified?
Yes, spousal support orders can be modified unless you have an agreement that it's non-modifiable.
Is there a maximum alimony award?
How much alimony you have to pay really depends on a variety of factors. It depends on how long you were married, what your earning capacity is, if the spouse ever worked, their age and the health, etc. I think there is no maximum amount of alimony you can pay; it just really depends on the circumstances. The highest alimony order that I have seen belonged to my mentor. I believe she was able to obtain $75,000 a month in spousal support payments for her client.
Does my estate have to continue to make alimony payments after my death?
No. Once you die your estate will no longer have to make alimony payments for you. The obligation is yours and yours alone, it's not going to be assumed by your heirs or your estate.