California law considers spousal support a temporary situation, not a permanent one. This means that California judges expect the spouse receiving spousal support to eventually become self-sustaining and financially independent. Spousal support can last up to half of the marriage duration, so if the marriage lasted 10 years, the spouse receiving the support will usually see that support end after five years at the most.
There are several factors that can affect the amount of spousal support an ex-spouse (payer) has to pay every month once the divorce is final. The most common reason to request a spousal support reduction is a downward change in the support payer’s income. For example, if the supporting spouse suffers loss of income due to layoff or illness, he/she can request spousal support amounts to be lowered, reflecting on the diminished payer’s ability to meet the court requirements. On the opposite end of the spectrum, an increase in the supported spouse’s income is also cause for the payer to request original spousal support amounts to be lowered.
Another factor that affects spousal support amounts is if the supported spouse remarries. In this case, California law is clear and states that the obligation to pay alimony automatically ends. However, if a supported spouse is simply living with someone else and is not married to that person (i.e. cohabiting and involved in a romantic relationship), requesting a change in spousal support can be more challenging. California family Code section 4323(a)(1) states that “there is a rebuttable presumption, affecting the burden of proof, of decreased need for spousal support if the supported party is cohabiting with a non-marital partner …”. In simpler words, if the supported spouse lives with a non-marital partner, California will presume that the supported spouse now has a reduced need for financial support. This is a presumption only, not a certainty, which means that the supported spouse has the opportunity to prove a continuing need for spousal support payments even if he/she lives with someone else. It’s important to note that the court will not take into consideration the income of the non-marital partner when deciding on a new spousal support amount.
Because obtaining a reduction in spousal support requires ex-spouses to share information on their personal and financial situation, the process may not always be smooth and tensions can rise up. It is always better to discuss alimony changes between spouses first. If ex-spouses can’t reach a common ground, the next step is to work with an experienced family law mediator, who can encourage both parties to discuss and agree to adjust spousal support payments without the painful and costly involvement of attorneys, and having to file a “modification of support” with the local court system.
It is important to note that, while cohabitation may affect spousal support amounts paid, it has no impact on child support obligations and amounts. Since the non-marital partner is not the children’s parent, he/she has no obligation to financially support the children.
To learn more about the mediation process, complete our request for a free online evaluation, and to receive a free 30-minute phone consultation, visit us at www.afairway.com, or call 619-702-9174.