Can domestic violence affect alimony?

Spousal support, also known as alimony, can be a difficult topic in divorce. No one likes the idea of a court telling them to make regular payments to their ex-spouse, especially if the divorce was acrimonious.

What if the marriage was abusive? Can you be ordered to pay spousal support to an ex who abused you?

Fortunately, California law provides protections to the victims of domestic violence that, among other things, can prevent them from having to pay spousal support to an ex who abused them.

A primer on spousal support

Before we explain these protections, first we should provide a brief introduction to spousal support in California.

In any California divorce, the spouses must divide their community property. Theoretically, divorcing spouses could split their community in half, go their separate ways and everything would be fine. In reality, it rarely goes so smoothly. Dividing some types of assets can be quite difficult, and so property division is usually a matter of negotiation.

But in some cases, even after a painstaking negotiation and split of the community property, one spouse is left at a disadvantage. For instance, in some marriages, one spouse has a well-paid career and the other does not. For instance, one spouse might have stayed home to take care of the couple’s children. Upon divorce, the working spouse can continue in their career, earning a healthy living, but the stay-at-home spouse will be at a disadvantage when entering the job market because they have not worked outside the home for a number of years.

When deciding whether spousal support is warranted, courts will consider many factors, including the earning capacity of the parties, the standard of living they enjoyed during the marriage, the duration of the marriage, and more. One factor that can come into play is any history of domestic violence.

Misdemeanor or felony

If you were abused by an ex, and they were convicted of a domestic violence-related charge, California law protects you against being ordered to pay your ex spousal support. The extent of your protection depends on the severity of the offense and the amount of time that has elapsed since the conviction.

In cases involving a conviction on misdemeanor charges the court follows a “rebuttable presumption” that you should not be ordered to pay spousal support to your ex. This applies only in cases where the offense was against you, and where the offense occurred within the past five years. Your ex will have the chance to argue for spousal support in court. In cases involving a conviction on felony charges, your ex will not be able to argue for spousal support.

Note that the law has requirements and loopholes. An attorney with experience in these issues can help you understand how the law could apply to the unique facts of your case.