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Posted on Feb 11 on 2014

Alimony payments are often a central point of contention in any divorce case. While it’s easy to see how someone who’s recently exited a marriage agreement could benefit from some period of steady support to get them back on their feet, alimony can just as easily turn into a windfall for the recipient, allowing them to live a comfortable lifestyle with no incentive to repurpose their lives and support themselves financially.

In the State of California, if a marriage ends after 10 years, the alimony obligation remains in place until the recipient dies or is remarried. A 10 year marriage can result in a lifetime of payment, essentially creating a form of “private welfare,” penalizing one party by forcing them to pay support for a spouse for the duration of their life.

Granted, just like the public welfare system, there are cases where the payee may need this money to turn their life around. The difference is the public welfare system has checks and balances in place to prevent abuse; putting the burden on the payee to prove that they can’t support themselves. But if a party in an alimony case wishes to modify or cease their payment, the burden of proof is on the payer, not the payee. As a result, these cases are hard fought, often requiring multiple hearings and court appearances with little guarantee of success.

Contrast this now with a state like Texas. The original intent of support in that state is carried forward into the modern day. If you want support, you get it for a limited period of time and up to a limited amount. After that, you are on your own.

While Texas is a community property state, it seems to recognize the fact that anything more than a short term rehabilitative support order is a windfall. After all, why should someone continue to live a higher level lifestyle, years after they are divorced, simply because their former spouse is able to make money? By the same token, why should someone be forced to work at level that they would not otherwise work, simply to provide support for their former partner who is not inclined to support himself or herself.

It is time for us to reconsider the spousal support structure in California. The spirit of the system is sound; if someone is dependent on the spouse during the marriage, they should receive some assistance while they restructure their lives and reenter the workforce. However, there is nothing equitable or appropriate about forcing one party to provide a recurring windfall long after a marriage has ended. California’s alimony system is broken, and the time for reform is now.