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History of California Alimony/Spousal Support

spousal support

Spousal Support/Alimony History, From Fault to No-Fault, Past to Present

California laws for divorce, spousal support/alimony have gone through many evolutions. In the beginning, prior to statehood, California followed the Spanish Civil Code. The Spanish Civil Codes followed a Catholic perspective when it came to questions of divorce, which meant that courts viewed marriage as an unbreakable commitment between a husband and wife. Eventually, the courts started allowing what was known as a “limited” divorce or, in other words, a legal separation, at which time the wife received all property brought into the marriage by her, as well as any interest she had in the marital community property. No fault was required.

Society’s belief, as reflected in the court’s orders regarding alimony was that a husband’s responsibility to provide support for his wife superseded any separation, and continued on indefinitely. A legal end of the marriage such as a divorce was not recognized by the court.

Enactment of the 1851 Codified Divorce Laws

In 1851, California enacted its first divorce laws. These laws were considered liberal to the extent that they recognized the rights of couples to legally end their marital state. Divorce then became possible, but under certain circumstances. Those circumstances required, that there had to be a showing of “fault,” such as adultery. An award of alimony to the wife was then directly connected to that “fault.”

If the husband was found to have committed an act of adultery or cruelty, he would be considered to be “at fault” for ending the marriage. In such instances, the court would make the assumption that if the marriage was ending through some fault of the husband’s, that the wife’s right to receive spousal support should continue. However, if the wife was at fault, her entitlement to alimony was waived.

No-Fault Divorce Laws and Changes to Alimony/Spousal Support

In 1970, Governor Reagan signed into law, California’s no-fault divorce statute. All states, except New York, currently offer some form of no-fault divorces.

No-fault divorce laws led to some major changes in alimony. In no-fault divorce cases, spousal support was no longer considered a right, but was now conditional. An order for spousal support was dependent upon the status of the individual spouses. It permitted the spouse who would be at an economic disadvantage after the marriage, to continue with the same standard of lifestyle that they were living during the marriage.

Current Laws Pertaining to Alimony/Spousal Support

Currently, California’s laws permit an award of alimony either by court order, or by mutual agreement of the parties. The agreement must be reduced to a writing and becomes part of the divorce decree. The purpose for alimony in current proceedings is to alleviate the economic disparity between the spouses, and it is no longer gender based. A husband may be awarded alimony if he is the one with the lower income earning potential.

Alimony Types and Purposes

The types of alimony orders depend upon the purpose for which alimony is needed, such as a temporary order, or orders needed for one of the spouse’s rehabilitation or as a reimbursement, etc. There are also certain factors that come into play that will shape the court’s determination as to which spouse is entitled to support, taking into consideration such things as the financial condition of one spouse over another, age and physical condition.

California is a “no fault” divorce state. As such, there are certain rules of law that you will need to understand in order to protect your rights and interests, including property rights, child support and spousal support, and to take some of the stress out of your divorce proceedings. If you are in Sonoma County, Mendocino County or Lake County California and contemplating a divorce, please call 707-576-7175 for a consultation with the Santa Rosa family law attorneys office of Beck Law P.C., or visit us online.

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