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How California judges determine the amount of alimony

One of the most difficult issues in any divorce in California is whether one ex-spouse will be ordered to pay alimony to the other ex-spouse. The answers to these questions can affect the life of each ex-spouse for many years, and understanding the factors that the court must consider in awarding spousal support will help both parties present their cases arguing for more or less alimony.

The court must first evaluate the earning capacity of each spouse during the marriage. The court must then examine the likely earning capacity of each spouse after the divorce. If the ex-spouses are likely to have substantially differing post-marriage earning capacities, alimony will be used to equalize the two situations. The court will evaluate the marketable skills of the spouse getting support and the job market for those skills. The court will also determine whether the spouse receiving support will need further education or training to find employment.

The duration of an award of alimony is almost as important as the amount. If a couple has been married for 10 years or more, the alimony may not have an expiration date. Otherwise, the court will fix a "reasonable time" for the expiration of alimony, based on the amount of time the receiving spouse will need to acquire needed education or training.

An award of alimony also depends heavily on whether there was domestic violence during the marriage. An abusive spouse may be required to pay additional alimony as compensation for the effect of the violence. If the receiving spouse was the violent partner, the amount of alimony may be reduced accordingly.

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