Spousal Support Is Gender Neutral. Here’s Why

Spousal Support Is Gender Neutral. Here’s Why.

When we think of alimony (a/k/a spousal support), we usually think of this scenario: the husband is ordered to make monthly payments to his ex-wife for a number of years. But courts do not make spousal support rulings based on the gender of either the payer or the receiver.

One recent example involved the high-profile divorce of Kelly Clarkson and Brandon Blackstock. A judge awarded Clarkson’s ex-husband temporary monthly spousal support of $150,000. Women might be surprised or even outraged that Clarkson is forced to make support payments to her ex-husband. However, the judge was merely following the law.

And in California divorce, judges follow California law when determining whether to award spousal support or not. Certain factors in a couple’s marriage become very important.

Each Spouse’s Ability to Earn and Maintain Standard of Living Is Considered

During their marriage, couples settle into certain routines. They may live a certain lifestyle based on factors like their income or ability to get credit. So, their family court judge will consider how the couple lived when determining whether one party should receive spousal support. This factor remains important even when one partner earned more income than the other.

Additionally, family court judges consider each spouse’s earning ability and marketable skills. In some marriages, one spouse (usually the wife) puts their career on hold to be a stay-at-home parent. Therefore, that spouse might not have the skills to support themselves at any level, much less the level to which they are accustomed.

Learning marketable skills and finding employment usually takes time and money. If the couple has children, childcare expenses may skyrocket while their custodial parent commits to training or education.

All of these factors play into the judge’s decision to award spousal support or not. Gender, however, does not factor in. For example, the higher-income spouse could be the wife, not the husband, which means the wife might be making support payments to the husband.

The Length of the Marriage Can Play a Part in Spousal Support Awards

Couples married more than ten years are treated differently than people in shorter relationships. Under California law, judges consider ‘long-term marriages’ in a different light, particularly when considering how long payments will continue.

Generally, the receiving spouse can receive a spousal support award that lasts about one-half the length of the marriage. In long-term marriages, the judge can retain jurisdiction for an indefinite period of time.

However, this does not necessarily mean that the spousal support award will go on forever. At some point, perhaps at the payer’s request, the judge can terminate support if it’s apparent it is no longer needed.

Again, gender should not affect the judge’s decision.

Domestic Violence Usually Has an Impact on Spousal Support Awards

Finally, California family court judges consider any history of domestic violence when determining support. If the person who will be paying support was the abuser, “the judge will consider any emotional distress resulting from the violence suffered by the spouse or partner to be supported.” In other words, the award might be slightly higher if the payer abused the person receiving support.

On the other hand, sometimes the abusive person is the person who would usually receive support. In such cases, the judge might balk at granting support to the person who committed the domestic violence. However, a rebuttable presumption exists, which means the judge is ruling on the facts currently before the court. The alleged abuser might present new, contradictory evidence that could result in a different ruling.

Spousal Support Issues Loom Large in Many Divorces

Whether you are paying or receiving, the issue of spousal support can be complicated and frustrating. That’s why you need a California divorce lawyer well-versed in spousal support, as well as the other critical issues present in your divorce.

The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger are experienced at all phases of divorce, legal separation, and annulment. Call us at 415-293-8314 to schedule a private appointment or visit our website. We assist clients along California’s Northern to Southern Coast, including San Francisco, Beverly Hills, Marin, San Jose, Gold River, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Ventura/Oxnard, and surrounding communities.

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