Alimony – commonly called spousal support – is part of many divorce cases in California. But how much will it cost you? Can you find out how to avoid paying alimony at all, or at least reduce the amount the court orders you to pay?

Here’s what you need to know.

How to Avoid Paying Alimony in California

There are some ways to avoid paying alimony in California – but in some cases, the judge will order it and you’ll be required to comply. The easiest way to get out of paying alimony is to have a frank discussion with your spouse about your situation. You may be able to reach an agreement between yourselves (even if it requires a little negotiating).

You can also show the court that your spouse is perfectly capable of supporting him- or herself. Courts aren’t likely to award alimony to someone who has a job (or who can get a job), or who won’t have a difficult time providing for his or her own basic needs.

The bottom line is that the courts order alimony to help a lower-earning spouse get on his or her feet, though. That means if your soon-to-be ex-spouse formally requests alimony, the courts will look at several factors to determine whether it’s necessary – even if the spouse seeking alimony is the one who initiated the divorce (or is the reason for the divorce). The judge in your case will look at things like each spouse’s:

  • Income and assets
  • Debt obligations
  • Training, education and experience that leads to employability
  • Ability to work while caring for children at the same time

The judge will also consider how long you were married, as well as the standard of living you both enjoyed during the marriage. 

How Much Will Alimony Cost Me?

There’s no way to predict how a judge will rule, but the courts must use certain factors in determining an alimony amount. Some of those factors include:

  • How much money each spouse makes
  • The balance of hardships to each party
  • Whether one spouse was abusive toward the other
  • How long you were married
  • How much you can each earn while working
  • The paying spouse’s ability to pay
  • Each spouse’s needs based on the marital standard of living
  • Other factors that the court feels are necessary

Do You Have to Pay Alimony After You Retire? 

In the state of California, you can change an alimony order if you have a significant change in circumstances. Retirement can cause a serious change in your financial circumstances, so you can petition the court to rescind (cancel) or reduce your spousal support obligation. Talk to your attorney about your options if you retire and you’re under an alimony order. You can’t legally be required to work over retirement age just so you can pay your former spouse – and in some cases, if you retire early, you might be able to show the court that you should be entitled to stop paying support.

I Lost My Job – Do I Still Have to Pay Alimony?

The courts can change a spousal support order if you have a significant change in circumstances. If you’ve lost your job, you may be able to ask the court to suspend your payments temporarily – or, if you find a different job that pays less than the one you had, you can ask the court to change your obligation entirely. In some cases, people who have lost their jobs have successfully had the courts terminate spousal support payments.  

What Are Some Things That Could Lower My Alimony Obligation?

You can ask the court to lower your alimony obligation under certain circumstances. That means in some situations, the court will reduce the amount of money you have to pay your former spouse. When you or your spouse has had a significant change in circumstances since the order was issued, you definitely have grounds to ask. You can petition the court to lower your alimony payments if:

  • You retire
  • You lose your job or begin making less money
  • Your spouse gets a job and begins earning sufficient money
  • Your spouse moves in with someone (or marries, in which case you’ll want to ask the court to terminate your alimony obligation)
  • You have an illness or disability that prevents you from working

There are some other circumstances that could count, too, so it’s best to talk to your attorney about your specific situation. 

How Does the Court Handle Changes in Employment?

The court can make assumptions about your income. For example, if you’ve been making alimony payments based on a $100,000-per-year income, but you go to the court and you say, “I just quit my job to pursue my dream of becoming a famous fiction writer, so I can’t pay alimony any longer,” the court can tell you that you must continue paying the original amount in alimony.  The court can also appoint an expert under Evidence Code, Section 730 to evaluate your earning power – regardless of what your actual income. The bottom line is that you shouldn’t quit your job just to stop paying alimony. (But losing your job involuntarily is a different situation.)

Can the Court Make Me Pay Alimony Based on the Overtime I Worked During the Marriage?

Previous California court cases have settled this question – the court can’t “lock you in” to working overtime just for the purpose of paying your ex more in support.  

Who Qualifies for Alimony?

The courts only order alimony in cases where the seeking spouse can demonstrate need. That means the person who’s asking for spousal support must show that he or she isn’t self-supporting. Usually, though, the courts will only order the paying spouse to pay for a certain amount of time. Alimony is designed to help a person get back on his or her feet after being married to someone who supported them.    

When Can I Stop Paying Alimony in California? 

Many support orders are temporary. Usually, the court puts a timeframe on how long you’ll have to pay alimony. Often, in marriages of short duration (those that lasted fewer than 10 years), the court won’t order support that lasts longer than half the time the marriage lasted. For example, if you were married for 8 years, it’s likely that the court would order support with a termination date four years from the date you started paying alimony. It’s important to note that your spouse can ask for an extension before it expires, though (but there’s no guarantee that a judge will grant it). 

Sometimes courts order permanent alimony. This can happen when you were married for a long time and your spouse never worked, or when you’ve been married for a long time and your spouse is unlikely to be able to find a job in the future. 

Spousal support automatically ends when the recipient gets married to someone else, though. Likewise, if your former spouse moves in with someone else, you may be able to argue to the court that his or her circumstances have changed enough to warrant a change in your alimony order. 

What Happens if You Don’t Pay Alimony in California?

If you’ve been ordered to pay alimony and you don’t, you could get yourself into serious trouble with the courts. Failure to pay alimony after a judge has ordered you to do so can have serious consequences. In fact, the judge can order the county to confiscate the funds from your financial estate – and the judge can even hold you in contempt of court, which could land you in jail. The best way to protest a spousal support order is to ask the court to modify it – you can’t just stop paying it. In many cases, particularly if you can show a significant change in circumstances, the courts are willing to modify alimony orders. 

Do You Need to Learn More About How to Avoid Paying Alimony?

The best way to avoid paying alimony is to work with your ex-spouse. You may be able to negotiate a settlement that leaves spousal support off the table. However, you can probably benefit from an attorney’s guidance. Call us at 310-683-4623 right now or contact us online to schedule your free consultation with a Beverly Hills divorce attorney who can help.