Wife's Rights for Alimony in a Divorce in California

By Beverly Bird

Woman with lawyer

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Wives typically don't have an automatic right to alimony or spousal support, no matter where they live. In California, alimony is determined on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the particular details involved in each marriage. Judges are statutorily obligated to consider several factors, but ultimately, it's their interpretation of these factors that determines whether alimony will be awarded and, if so, how much.


Under California's statutes, alimony is intended to help wives make ends meet temporarily, until they can become more self-sufficient and provide more fully for themselves. The state's code indicates this should occur within "a reasonable period of time," which typically equates to one year of alimony for every two years of the marriage. However, this doesn't prevent judges from awarding support for a shorter time or longer. If you were married for 10 years or more, the judge might award support indefinitely.

Earnings Potential

One of the most important factors a California judge can weigh is how much you're capable of earning on your own. If your earnings ability – or potential earnings ability after schooling or training – is enough that you can support yourself in a style comparable to that which you enjoyed while married, the court may not order alimony at all. The pivotal factor is how much extra money you need in order to live the way you did when you and your husband were together.

Custody Factors

Custody also affects alimony in California. Particularly when younger children are involved, courts are reluctant to force a mother to work extensive hours to support herself if this time detracts from her ability to care for and spend time with the children.

Contribution to Marital Income

California is a community property state. Under community property law, both spouses have an equal 50 percent interest in anything acquired during the marriage, including income. Therefore, both spouses have the same equal right to the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage post-divorce, even if the wife never worked but contributed to the marriage in other ways, such as by caring for the home or raising the children. Likewise, when a wife works to put her husband through school or if she otherwise contributed to his job advancement, she's entitled to enjoy some of the income he earns as a result.

Domestic Violence

California is somewhat unique in that it directly cites issues of domestic violence in its alimony statutes. If the violence is documented, such as if an injured spouse makes a police report or the abusive spouse is convicted of domestic violence as a criminal offense, the law says judges must consider it in alimony decisions. If a wife commits violence against her husband, either physically or emotionally, the court may bar her from collecting support. If an alimony order is already in place, the amount may be reduced or even eliminated entirely.

Other Factors

California's other alimony factors include property owned by the wife, including what she may have acquired before the marriage or through gift or inheritance, as well as her half of the marital community property. Significant assets may allow her to live a lifestyle comparable to the marital standard of living without help. Judges can also consider the age and health of each spouse. Both factors can influence a wife's need for income and a husband's ability to pay support.