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What's 'permanent spousal support' in California?

The last decade or so has seen the rise of many arguments with regard to a certain family law topic: alimony, or as it is called in California, spousal support. The focus of many of these discussions has been the award of a type of post-relationship payments known as permanent spousal support. While the name may be somewhat misleading, it is important for those going through a divorce in California, especially those with high incomes or a large number of assets, to understand how this type of alimony works.

First off, in most modern cases, permanent spousal support isn't necessarily 'permanent' in the sense of 'forever.' What generally differentiates permanent alimony from temporary alimony is that temporary support is meant to get the payee through the divorce proceeding, while permanent spousal support describes a payment order set to continue after the termination of the legal relationship between the couple is finalized. This being said, it is still possible that a permanent spousal support will be indefinite, in that there may not be a scheduled end date.

Even such indefinite orders can be terminated or modified, however. One event that will terminate an order of permanent support is the payee's death. In California, the estate is not entitled to continue receiving further spousal support payments (though, if a balance of unpaid prior payments exists, these may be due). Another way an order may be changed is a change in circumstances of one or the other ex-spouses. Loss of income on the payor's side or a remarriage or other change in the need of the payee for support can be the basis of a modification or termination of the order.

Finally, in certain circumstances, if it is apparent that the payee is making no attempt to become self-sufficient, a judge may terminate or reduce a prior spousal support order. Because the intent of spousal support is to maintain an ex-spouse in a condition similar to what was enjoyed during the marriage until such time as they can support themselves, courts do want payees to make an effort to make this happen. Those who find themselves with questions about spousal support of any kind may wish to consider the services of an experienced California family attorney, especially if a large sum of money is potentially involved.

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