In California, the law does not distinguish between a wife or a husband’s rights to alimony in a divorce. Rather, the law considers a wide variety of factors to determine which, if either, spouse is entitled to receive some alimony after the dissolution of marriage. The term used for alimony in California law is “spousal support.”
Standard of Living
The benchmark for alimony awards in California is the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage. Alimony is not intended to allow either you or your spouse to improve your standard of living beyond this point. But, when considering whether to award spousal support, the court looks to the marketable job skills and earning potential of the supported spouse. You and your wife are expected to work to the extent possible to maintain that standard, though a wife may be compensated if domestic duties related to the marriage resulted in periods of unemployment that have decreased her overall earning potential.
Duration of Marriage
Another major factor the courts consider is the duration of the marriage. By statute, a marriage lasting 10 years or more is a lengthy marriage, for which there is a greater likelihood spousal support will be granted for an extended time. A related factor is the wife’s contribution to the marriage. A wife may have increased her spouse’s earning potential by providing support during education or training, and doing so directly increases the support she is likely to receive.
The court also considers the extent to which a wife’s earning potential will be impaired by certain obligations related to the marriage. If there are children, the wife’s ability to work will be limited or be offset by the cost of appropriate child care. If the marriage created substantial debt, payments on those debts will also limit a wife’s ability to maintain the standard of living during the marriage.
A wife’s need for alimony is calculated based on the cost of maintaining the marriage standard of living less her own ability to support herself through her own earnings. Another consideration is the extent of the separate property, assets not part of the marital property, that the spouse has available to her to maintain her standard of living. The supporting spouse’s ability to pay is also a major consideration since no amount of need on the part of the wife will motivate a court to force a spouse to pay in alimony more than what they can afford.
A wife’s cohabitation with a person of the opposite sex creates the rebuttable presumption that her need for spousal support is reduced. While cohabitation will not in all cases reduce an ex-wife’s genuine need for spousal support, this aspect of the law underscores the policy that spousal support is not intended to be a windfall, but rather a just division of property.