In a California divorce, how long does it take to begin receiving spousal support (commonly known as alimony)? Like everything else in the law, the answer is “it’s complicated” and “it depends.” Every couple and every divorce is unique, of course, so anyone seeking or anticipating a divorce in southern California should discuss the particulars of the divorce with an experienced Orange County divorce attorney. Still, some general rules regarding spousal support will apply to everyone who divorces in the state of California.


The first thing a divorcing spouse should understand about spousal support in California is the difference between a temporary support order and a “permanent” spousal support judgment. Temporary support means support that is provided as the divorce is pending and before or until it concludes. In many California divorces, one spouse may need temporary financial support throughout the duration of the divorce proceeding, and the court may elect to award that temporary support early in the process.

A California divorce begins with a divorce petition. The petition is then “served” on the partner who did not file for it. A request for temporary spousal support can be submitted with the divorce petition or later at any point in the process. The court then schedules a hearing date for the temporary support request, typically within thirty to ninety days. Because temporary support is genuinely temporary – it does not last long at all – the courts seldom conduct any comprehensive assessment or evaluation of properties and assets before approving temporary support.


If spouses can settle the support issue – even just provisionally – on their own before or during the hearing on the temporary support request, temporary support can probably be obtained faster. Otherwise, a judge will usually approve temporary support unless he or she is presented with a good reason not to. However, and this is important in terms of when temporary support is actually received, the first hearing can also end with no resolution – with a continuance.

Continuances are commonly but not automatically granted in California divorce hearings for a number of reasons. For example, if complications arise in the case, there may not be time to finish the hearing, and a continuance must be scheduled. Matters such as child custody or a domestic abuse charge or accusation may also take priority and be the reason for a continuance. The answer to “when does a spouse begin receiving temporary support?” depends on all of these factors.


The courts in California generally use a fixed formula to decide on a proper amount of temporary support. Temporary support can help a divorcing spouse meet obligatory financial responsibilities during the divorce process, and it can often make all the difference. Temporary support can also ensure that a divorcing spouse does not damage his or her credit rating because of the divorce.


A “permanent” spousal support judgment – although it is seldom really permanent – generally comes about through either a settlement or a trial. A settlement between the divorcing spouses generally becomes a “stipulated” judgment, but if spousal support is contested, the matter goes before a judge who determines the amount and duration of spousal support that will be paid subsequent to the conclusion of the divorce process.

How long does it take to begin receiving permanent spousal support? The answer to that question hinges on several factors such as the length of the marriage, disputes regarding the income and assets of one or both spouses, the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage, and other matters like custody disputes or abuse allegations. If there are no disputes or only minor points are disputed, some divorces and spousal support matters can be resolved in six months or less. However, if the divorce is complicated and the finances are complex, arriving at a final judgment can sometimes take a year or longer.


If you are requesting permanent spousal support, a number of items will need to be properly assessed and evaluated. If a variety of assets and properties are involved, the process can be quite complicated and exasperating. In Southern California, the dedication and commitment of an experienced Orange County divorce attorney is imperative if a divorcing spouse wants to be assured that his or her support settlement will be fair and adequate.


After the divorce is final and the question of “permanent” alimony is ostensibly “resolved,” if there is a substantial change in the life circumstances of either ex-spouse, the spousal support order will need to be modified. An ex-spouse paying and seeking to reduce payment amounts must prove a change in personal circumstances warranting the modification. Likewise, an ex-spouse seeking more support must provide proof of a change in circumstances warranting a modification.

After one spouse files a modification request with the court, a judge will assess the request and decide if a modification is in order, and if so, what kind of modification. No spousal support agreement, even if it’s called “permanent,” is forever. A paying ex-spouse may seek a modification when the supported ex cohabits or remarries, when either party’s income changes, or when either ex becomes a new parent with a new partner. Unemployment, addiction, disability, and incarceration may also trigger spousal support modifications.

How long does it take to get a spousal support order modified in California? It may not take long if the evidence that modification is needed is readily at hand. The situation resembles the pre-divorce procedure for temporary support in that the spouse seeking modification first files a request, and the court then sets a hearing date. In most cases, however, all other matters have been settled by the time a spousal support modification is being requested, so the court is usually able to focus on spousal support exclusively. If uncontested, a modification does not take long, but if there’s dispute, there may be continuances, and a resolution may take time to reach.


Those who pay spousal support frequently seek to have that support terminated after a number of years, and they often are successful. When spousal support is no longer necessary or appropriate, a paying spouse should not hesitate to seek a termination order. Finally, if you are currently paying or receiving spousal support, you should have an experienced divorce attorney examine the current support order to ensure its fairness and suitability.