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Bay Area Family Law Blog


What Factors Go Into Determining Alimony Payments?

In the state of California, one spouse may be ordered to make alimony payments to the other spouse following a separation or divorce.  More properly referred to as “spousal support” in California, alimony payments are designed to help provide both spouses and their children with the standard of living they had become accustomed during the marriage.  Both the length and the amount alimony vary widely in California depending on a number of factors.

Income Level

The primary consideration in setting the alimony amount is the parties’ respective incomes. When the parties first separate, the goal is to provide alimony payments during the divorce process. A judge will likely establish a short-term alimony arrangement that assists the supported spouse with finding a place to live and adequate employment to become self-sufficient. As time passes, however, support may be reduced as the supported spouse becomes increasingly self-sufficient and his or her needs are therefore reduced.


The purpose of alimony, besides supporting a standard of living, is to help the supported party become self-sufficient. The judge will take into consideration the supported spouse’s employability, including their employment history during the marriage and their marketable skills.

The court will look to California Family Code § 4320 which lists the factors the court should consider in making a longer-term spousal support order.  A common scenario is where the lesser earning spouse quits working to stay home with the kids while the higher earning spouse advances her career.  The court takes these circumstances into consideration and adjusts alimony payments accordingly.

Other Factors That Influence Alimony Payments

Higher earning spouses are often surprised that judges in California don’t take monthly expenses into account when figuring alimony payments.  When calculating spousal support other factors which can affect the total alimony payment are:

  • Medical insurance premiums
  • Mortgage Insurance
  • Property taxes
  • Pre-taxed 401K
  • Retirement
  • Social Security Benefits

If you have any specific questions about alimony payments, we suggest that you speak with a qualified California family law attorney who can help you make sense of the California Family Court system.  We’re happy to help – feel free to give us a call.

California Guide to Child and Spousal Support eBook Download

Categories: Support

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