How Is Alimony Calculated in California?

When it comes to alimony, reaching an agreement doesn’t have to be a fight.

If you’re getting a divorce, you might be wondering about alimony payments. If you’re nervous about this, that’s completely normal. Just take some time, breathe, and rest assured that there’s a non-adversarial path forward.

If you’re wondering, “How much is alimony in California?” the answer is: It depends.

In this article, you’ll learn what alimony is, how to calculate it in California, and how a mediator can help you throughout your divorce journey.

What is alimony?

Alimony, or spousal support, is a court-ordered payment from one spouse to another, usually for a designated time period. You might pay alimony during or after your divorce proceedings if your spouse needs help meeting their monthly living expenses.

Reasons for alimony include:

  • A difference in income between the spouses (one earner makes much more than the other)
  • Conditions preventing a return to work (like age or health)
  • Limiting economic arrangements (an established agreement to have one person maintain the home while the other goes to work)

Alimony differs from child support payments because it supports your spouse, not your child(ren). These periodic payments also vary depending on the type of alimony involved (more on this next).

The two types of alimony in California

In California, there are two types of alimony: temporary and long-term.

This is an image of a cliffside by the ocean at sunset.A temporary spousal support agreement applies while a family law divorce case is in process. It recognizes that one spouse has immediate financial needs and earns less than the other. It is put in place to ensure that the lower-earning spouse is able to make necessary payments during the transition.

Long-term alimony, which includes permanent spousal support obligations, is determined by a judge or by written agreement. This type falls into one of two situations:

  • For marriages that lasted less than 10 years, support lasts half the length of the marriage.
  • For long-term marriages that lasted over 10 years, a judge decides how long the spousal support payments last if they litigate. In mediation, spouses reach an agreement regarding the amount and duration of alimony.

A long-term spousal support agreement helps the supported individual maintain the standard of living established during the marriage and gives them reasonable time to reach that standard through other means. For example, a previously non-income earning spouse may need time to train, update their resume, and rejoin the workforce.

Spousal support awards become more permanent when the supported spouse is unable to return to the workforce due to factors such as age or health.

How to calculate temporary alimony

There are two ways to calculate temporary alimony payments. We discuss each of them in detail below.

This is an image of a person using their phone and calculator to make some calculations.

Option 1: California’s formula for temporary alimony

In litigation, California judges often reference this alimony formula to estimate potential payments:

40% of the higher earner’s net monthly income

 –50% of the lower earner’s net monthly income

= Amount of monthly support to be paid to the lower earner

“Net” refers to the income received after taxes.

For example, if you earn $5,000 per month and your spouse earns $1,500, then $1,250 monthly would be an accurate estimate.

($5,000 x .4) – ($1,500 x .5) = $1,250 per month to be paid to the lower earner

While judges rely on this simple formula, there is flexibility. For instance, a judge could change a payment amount depending on a child’s college fees or one person’s savings. In court, the decision is made at the judge’s discretion.

Temporary spousal support changes can also be made based on an earner’s status. For example, one spouse could get a promotion or lose their job, changing the amount of money considered in the process.

The complexities of court systems can make it challenging to predict potential spousal support payouts.

Option 2: The personalized approach

While California has several laws that protect spouses, an Aurit Center Certified Mediator can help you understand the law and find an alimony arrangement that works for you and your spouse.

The courts are not incentivized to push for agreements. Instead, long, drawn-out disagreements mean that divorce attorneys get paid more.

Mediators, on the other hand, are specialists at guiding both spouses and helping them reach agreements faster.

The personalized approach of mediation not only helps both spouses recognize the potential for compromise but also enables them to provide written agreements to the courts — overwriting the standard alimony calculations.

To learn more about the benefits of mediation, schedule a free one-hour consultation with an Aurit Center Certified mediator at your convenience.

Calculating long-term alimony

Let’s take a look at long-term alimony, which is more complicated.

Much like short-term alimony, you have two options: relying on the courts or seeking a more personalized mediation approach.

Option 1: Relying on court determinations

When a court determines spousal support is necessary, the judge decides how much time the supported spouse has to become self-supporting. They base this on a reasonable period determined by Family Code 4320.

This is an image of a person making an alimony payment on their laptop.

Family Code 4320 describes factors that affect spousal support payment amounts. Here are just a few common factors to keep in mind:

  • Marketable skills
  • Employment status
  • Attainment of education, a career, a license, or training
  • Living standard
  • Age and health
  • Experience of domestic violence
  • Long-term periods of unemployment
  • Division of assets (like shared property)

The last bullet point of Family Code 4320 includes “any other factors,” meaning nothing is off the table when calculating long-term alimony payments.

You could make a rough estimate based on the temporary formula using the information from the example above:

5 (years) 

x 12 (months) 

x 1,250 (monthly payment) 

= $75,000 total paid 

But allowing the courts to determine the amount is not your only option. To stay in control of all determination, a customizable mediation approach is preferable.

Option 2: The personalized approach

Submitting to the mercy of the courts, no matter what side you’re on, comes with a lot of uncertainty. The vagueness of California’s alimony laws sometimes protects people but ultimately leaves decisions about alimony matters in the hands of a judge.

If you and your spouse don’t want to feel dragged into an uncertain process, it helps to work with someone who ensures that both sides are heard. Your mediator can guide you both and keep you in control of all decisions.

Contact The Aurit Center for a free one-hour consultation to learn how a personalized approach can work for you.

Five benefits of hiring a mediator for alimony

Alimony can be a hot topic for spouses — but it doesn’t have to be that way. You can work with a mediator to make things easier.

Here’s what makes mediation the better approach:

1. More cost-effective

Hiring a lawyer and going through the court system can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Divorce lawyers are incentivized to push you into disagreements, as doing so means they get paid more.

Mediators, on the other hand, are paid to open up discussions and establish compromises, driving you to a resolution faster. Not only that, but Aurit Center Certified Mediators take an all-inclusive flat fee approach. You’ll know the exact cost of your mediation process before it even begins. This provides predictability and supports your financial stability.

2. Saves time

Family law cases can require multiple visits to a courtroom. The times for these visits are set by the court. As such, they are often inconvenient, and there can be delays.

When working with a mediator, you select the meeting times. Each meeting is geared toward creating specific, goal-oriented decisions meant to help both you and your spouse move forward.

This is an image of an alarm clock, a pair of glasses, two plants, and a cup of coffee on a table.

3. Ensures confidentiality

Electronic court records are publicly available in California, making your information and disagreements available to the public.

If you don’t want your disagreements publicly accessible, avoid court and work through disagreements with the help of a mediator.

4. Better outcomes

Court appearances can provoke conflict. Oftentimes, divorced spouses are left feeling hurt, abandoned, and eager to “win.”

Meanwhile, mediation has a proven track record of helping spouses reach alimony agreements that are sustainable after the divorce process.

5. Less emotionally taxing

Repeated visits to a courtroom are emotionally taxing. Discussing deeply personal topics on a public forum leaves people feeling drained.

Mediation offers a more relaxed, supportive environment.

It’s in the name: a judge will judge, while a mediator will mediate. Which do you think is better at conflict resolution?

Recap: Calculating California alimony — the easy way vs the hard way

There are two types of alimony awards: short-term and long-term. Both can be calculated using this formula:

40% of the higher earner’s net monthly income 

– 50% of the lower earner’s net monthly income

= monthly support

However, these calculations become less suitable as time goes on. After all, a lot can change in a few years. In California, many individual circumstances can alter a monthly alimony payment amount.

In contrast, working with a mediator provides clarity around uncertainty.

To learn more about how a mediator can help you, schedule a free one-hour consultation with The Aurit Center today.


Who qualifies for alimony in California?

To qualify for alimony in California, one spouse needs to earn significantly more than the other. If both spouses earn the same amount, the courts may not consider alimony.

In mediation, spouses reach an agreement about alimony with the help of their mediator.

How long does spousal support last in California?

Duration of marriage plays an important role in how long spousal support lasts in California. For a marriage that lasted under 10 years, California will allow for spousal support for up to 5 years. If alimony was set for a longer period of time, a judge could end spousal support based on a changing financial situation or a new marriage, among other factors.

In mediation, spouses can reach unique and creative agreements that they both find acceptable.

How much is alimony in California?

Typically, alimony is half of the higher-earning spouse’s net income minus 40% of the lower-earning spouse’s current income. But this can vary based on the court.

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