I recently met a woman at a networking event who was lamenting that two of her male friends were currently going through divorces and they expected to have to pay their wives spousal support for the rest of their life.
She continued that this was especially ridiculous in one of the cases, because the wife who expected to receive spousal support for the remainder of her life was currently earning her PHD.
I explained to her that while each case is different, the expectation that a higher earning spouse will be ordered to pay spousal support “permanently” or for the remainder of their lives is NOT typically going to be the case in California.
50 years ago when it was typical for women to stay at home and raise a family and likely never work, permanent spousal support orders were much more common – after all, these women were much less likely to be college educated or have employable skills. This was to protect the women from committing their entire lives to raising a family and maintaining the household only to be left out on the streets after a divorce.
Times have changed. More and more women are college educated and enter the workforce prior to marriage, meaning they have education and skills to fall back on in the event of divorce. The courts recognize this and they are much less likely to order permanent spousal support, regardless of the length of marriage, and especially if the marriage is less than 10 years. If the lower earning spouse has the ability to rehabilitate and be gainfully employed – even if that means their marital standard of living will not be maintained, the courts will expect that to happen and award support accordingly.
A much more likely situation is an order for shorter-term spousal support while the lower earning spouse gets additional education or certifications to be able to re-enter the workforce. There is no standard rule for the duration of spousal support in California – it all depends on the unique situation of each spouse.
The main takeaway here is that if you and your spouse have chosen for you to stay home to raise children while your spouse has continued to work, you cannot rely on a spousal support award that will allow you to never work again. The reality is that the standard of living for both spouses statistically decreases by 40% following a divorce.
If you need help determining what your lifestyle costs in order to better negotiate support, contact a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst who can help you understand your options and make educated decisions from a place of strength.