Divorce is a very stressful time, especially if you didn't know that your spouse intended to file. You may feel angry or betrayed. It is very common to have strong feelings about the potential financial impact of a divorce. Not only will you have to split your existing assets, but you may find yourself ordered to pay spousal support for your ex.
As someone who has been a wage-earner throughout your adult life, you likely resent the idea that you should have to pay part of your hard-earned wages toward a spouse who has not maintained a career outside the home.
Whether your ex is a homemaker or a stay-at-home parent, you might feel strongly that you shouldn't have to pay spousal support for them after a divorce. However, the fact that your ex doesn't currently have a job may very well mean the courts will order support.
The court looks at various factors, including income potential
Not every divorce involves spousal support, but many of them can. Spousal support, which people used to call alimony, is less common now than it used to be, as most households include two working adults instead of one. If both spouses work and make similar incomes, it is highly unlikely that the court will order spousal support.
However, if one spouse makes the money and another spouse runs the home, the nonworking spouse may be at a significant financial disadvantage. Years of caring for children or a home have left them with reduced earning potential. They will need to acquire modern skills, as well as current work experience, before they can secure decent, high-paying jobs.
In order to ensure that a nonworking spouse can survive in the wake of a divorce, the courts will typically order spousal support. However, there are limits to how much support an individual can request. The courts will also likely limit how long your ex can receive support. The idea is to close the gap between what they have the potential to make and what they need to survive until they have the time to acquire the skills or experience they need for a better job.
You can request changes to support when financial circumstances shift
The most important thing to realize about spousal support, other than the fact that it is temporary, is that you as the person paying have the right to request changes. If your personal financial circumstances change, you can request that the support levels change as well. If you lose your job or take a lower salary, the courts will likely revisit support at that time.
Similarly, if the financial circumstances of your ex change, the courts will consider a modification. Whether your former spouse remarries, inherits assets or otherwise develops a stream of income, the courts will consider that when determining whether you should continue to pay support.
Talking with an attorney who understands California law can help you prepare for the financial realities of divorce, including spousal support.