Spousal Support Across State Lines: What Happens to California Alimony If One Spouse Moves Away?

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Spousal Support Across State Lines: What Happens to California Alimony If One Spouse Moves Away?

Spousal support is an invaluable tool to help lower-earning spouses provide for themselves after a divorce. However, every state has unique laws regarding how spousal support (alimony) is awarded and paid. The differences between states can make things confusing if your ex-spouse moves away. 

Don’t worry, though. Your spousal support order is enforceable even if your ex has left the state. Let’s break down how alimony orders work, what happens if your ex-spouse relocates, and what to do if you need your order modified across state lines. 

Understanding Spousal Support in California

The state of California describes spousal support as “court ordered payment from one spouse or domestic partner to help cover the other’s monthly expenses.” There are two types of orders available in California:

  • Temporary: These short-term orders are put in place while a divorce is ongoing to provide for the lower-earning spouse until the split is finalized. 
  • Long-term: Sometimes known as “permanent” orders, they are issued alongside the divorce decree. They may last up to half the length of the marriage if the couple was married for fewer than ten years. For marriages of long duration, they may last indefinitely until either partner dies or the recipient enters a new supportive relationship.

When deciding whether to award alimony, the court considers factors such as the spouses’ comparative incomes, earning potentials, contributions to the marital estate, age, and health. The actual amount ordered can vary significantly depending on the circumstances. Once an order is issued, it remains in effect until the stated expiration date or one spouse successfully petitions for a modification.

Relocating and Spousal Support Across State Lines

California’s laws are relatively straightforward. However, other states may have substantially different legislation. Some of the biggest differences in alimony laws across the states include:

  • Factors considered when deciding whether to award support: Many states may weigh factors like age, health, and earning potential differently when determining whether support is necessary.
  • How the amount of support is calculated: In some locations, factors like child custody or fault for the divorce may impact the amount of support ordered.
  • Exemptions from support: California protects people from having to pay alimony to spouses who abused them, but this is not true in all locations. 
  • How duration of alimony is calculated: Some states have specific rules regarding how long maintenance may last, while others prohibit indefinite awards entirely. 

While these factors may affect orders issued in other states, they do not affect the obligation to pay support. 

Interstate Spousal Support Enforcement and Reciprocal Agreements

While every state has its own regulations regarding alimony, there’s one law they all have in common: the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA). Congress ordered all states to adopt some form of the UIFSA in 1996, which has been revised several times in years since. The Act sets the terms for jurisdiction when child and spousal support orders cross state lines. 

UIFSA is essentially a reciprocal agreement between all the states. It requires each state to respect and enforce orders issued elsewhere in the US. 

Normally, a California court cannot directly issue enforcement actions against a person living in another state in most cases. As such, UIFSA permits people who receive alimony to register their order in their ex’s new home state and county. Once the order is registered, it must be treated by the new state as if it had been issued there. 

However, UIFSA also states that the court that originally issued a support order has jurisdiction over the matter, even if one party moves away. In other words, if you get divorced in California, the court that issued your decree is in charge of your alimony order regardless of where your spouse moves. It’s the only court that can modify your order, even if you have the order registered somewhere else. 

Seeking Spousal Support Modification Before and After Relocation

If you need to change a support order issued in California, you must file a petition for modification at the court that issued the original order. This is typically simpler if your spouse still lives in the state. You will need to:

  • Collect evidence to support your petition, like proof that you lost your job
  • File your petition with the court
  • Have your ex-spouse served with copies of the petition
  • Attend a hearing to argue your case 

If your petition is successful, the judge will issue a new order in your favor. However, if your spouse has already relocated across state lines, there are a few extra steps.

First, if it’s an emergency, you may need to file an ex parte application to alter your order without your spouse’s input. Ex parte family law motions permit the court to issue a ruling without hearing from both sides, which can be helpful if your ex lives far away. However, they are rightfully rare and usually temporary since they restrict the other party’s right to participate in the proceedings. 

Second, you’ll need to have your spouse served across state lines. They may have the right to request a virtual hearing, or they may send someone to attend in their stead since they no longer live locally.

Finally, if your petition succeeds, you’ll need to re-register your order in your ex’s current state of residence, which can be a time-consuming process. 

Talk to Experienced Alimony Attorneys in Newark, CA

Alimony orders are complex enough when restricted to a single state. When multiple states are involved, the potential complications multiply significantly. That’s why talking to an experienced attorney about your needs is so important. At CC LawGroup, we have the knowledge and skills to help you with your alimony issues. We have decades of experience assisting California clients with interstate spousal support orders. Schedule your consultation to learn how we can help you modify or enforce alimony across state lines.