The Myths and Urban Legends of Spousal Support

By Marlo Van Oorschot
Van Oorschot Law Group PC

Spousal support, in most divorces, is a lightning rod issue. For many couples, money was a source of arguments during the marriage that often involved each person’s work schedules, career choices, stay-at-home choices, etc. For the spouse who will likely be paying spousal support, they often feel that paying spousal support enables what they view may be poor work/career choices of the other. Unfortunately, even if there were disagreements about those choices during the marriage, this rarely impacts the amount or duration of spousal support in a divorce.  That being said, many people are surprised to learn that their beliefs about spousal support are often a product of myths and urban legends.  

The wife never has to pay spousal support (alimony) to the husband. The laws on support are gender-neutral and are guided by the relative incomes of the parties and their respective financial status in the marriage.  Therefore, if the wife was the breadwinner in the marriage, then she is the spouse most exposed to paying support.  Although the pendulum has shifted where women can be the breadwinner in the family, it seems that old societal norms die hard when the wife is told she might have to pay support to her husband.

Both parties will have the same standard of living after divorce as they had while married.  If the total income available to either party does not increase after divorce, then both parties will likely have to reduce their standard of living.  Simple math demonstrates that the same pot of money which supported one household in a particular standard of living cannot support two separate households at that same standard.

Quitting a job, closing a business, or retiring early will avoid a support obligation. The family law obligation for one to support his or her child and/or spouse is not easily shirked and a divorce-induced financial recession in one’s life is unacceptable to the court.  In California, the law allows the court to assign to a party an income figure equivalent to their capacity to earn it.  Therefore, even if a party does not actually earn that income, it is possible that support will be calculated as though that income is received. This means that anyone who quits his or her job and thus lacks an actual income might be ordered to pay support. The practical effect usually forces that person to return to work.

While the Internet contains a lot of useful information, it also has the power to extend many urban legends, myths, misconceptions, and incorrect information. Therefore, it is important to meet with a lawyer who understands the law surrounding spousal support. If you have heard or read something which you think could impact your case, do not hesitate to ask your lawyer if it is true.