Can I Get Out of Paying Alimony in California?

Posted in Spousal Support on January 5, 2022

Alimony – known as spousal support in California – is an order that may be given in a divorce or legal separation case if there is an income disparity between the two parties. The purpose of alimony is to allow the lower-earning spouse to maintain his or her standard of living after the divorce. If the court orders you to pay alimony, there are circumstances where you may be able to reduce the amount that you owe – or avoid paying altogether.

Do You Have to Pay Alimony?

Not every divorce case in California ends in alimony. You may be able to avoid it if you can prove that your ex is capable of supporting himself or herself financially after the divorce. If your ex has a job, has the ability to get a job, or can otherwise provide for his or her own basic needs, you may be able to avoid a spousal support order. A divorce attorney can help you reach this goal.

If your divorce settlement agreement or trial ends in an order to pay spousal support, you are legally obligated to pay the amount assigned by the judge. Most alimony payments are made in periodic installments, but you may be ordered to pay a lump sum or transfer your property, instead. You must continue paying alimony until you reach the specific date and year laid out in the agreement, until the courts tell you to stop, or until you obtain a modification of your order. 

It is against the law to refuse to pay alimony. You can only avoid alimony with the court’s permission. Even if you come to a verbal agreement with your ex-spouse not to pay alimony or to miss a payment, you will still owe that money in the eyes of the law. This means that your ex can take you to court for it, if desired. Refusing to obey a court order by not paying alimony can lead to being held in contempt of court, with penalties such as fines and jail time.

When Can You Modify a Spousal Support Agreement in California?

While you cannot refuse to pay alimony, you may be able to modify the court order to reduce or eliminate the amount that you owe. To be eligible for a modification, you must prove to the courts that there has been a substantial change in your circumstances since the date a judge gave the order. For example, if you lost your job and can no longer afford the amount of alimony that was awarded to your ex-spouse, you may qualify for a modification that reduces the amount owed.

To request an alimony modification, you must return to the court that provided the original order and give your reason for the request, along with supporting evidence. This may be a change in your financial circumstances, a change in your ex’s financial circumstances, retirement, your ex moving in with someone else, or a formal agreement between you and your ex. Note that if a judge discovers you intentionally quit your job or turned down a job opportunity to avoid paying alimony, you will be forced to pay the original amount plus additional fines, interest and penalties.

How Long Does Alimony Last?

The answer to this question depends on the circumstances. The courts calculate alimony timelines based on factors such as the length of the marriage, the ability of the supported spouse to get a job and the age of the recipient. Some alimony orders last weeks or months, while others last years or are indefinite.

Can You End Alimony Early?

In California, a spousal support order ends early if the spouse receiving the payment gets remarried. In this case, the paying spouse can simply stop paying, with no need to file a motion to terminate the support or obtain a court order. It is a legal requirement for the supported spouse to notify the payer of the remarriage. If the spouse fails to do so, the paying person could receive a refund for any excess payments that were made after the date of the remarriage. Note, however, that a spouse’s remarriage will not eliminate overdue alimony, vested lump-sum payments or property transfers. 

Talk to a Solana Beach spousal support attorney for more information about reducing alimony or ending payments early.