California Spousal Support and Domestic Violence


It’s common knowledge that California is a no-fault state when it comes to divorce. However, many spouses are surprised to learn that there are certain factors involved in divorce and family law in which fault can actually impact the outcome. For example, a domestic violence conviction is one of those factors, and it can affect California spousal support.

No-fault also means family law courts will not and cannot take into account who was at fault when making decisions on the conditions of a divorce settlement. For instance, courts will split marital property equitably no matter why a couple is divorcing. Other factors that won’t influence or affect a divorce settlement decision include:

  • One spouse having an affair
  • One spouse having problems with addiction
  • One spouse depleting assets or property
  • One spouse has a history of committing abuse or domestic violence

The only major exception to the no-fault policy is how the judge will determine spousal support. If there is substantial proof of domestic violence during the marriage, under California law, it can significantly impact a spousal support order. So, even though California is a no-fault divorce state, family courts must consider any history of domestic violence when awarding alimony.

Domestic Violence Effects on Spousal Support

Spousal support, also referred to as spousal maintenance or alimony payments, helps spouses continue their relatively same quality of life after divorce. This is especially true for couples where one spouse makes substantially more money than the other or sets aside their own career or aspirations to care for the home or children while the other works or goes to school.

However, California family courts understandably attempt to avoid making victims of abuse pay alimony or spousal support to their abusive spouse, no matter the abusive spouse’s financial situation. If, during the last five years:

  • A spouse has a felony domestic violence conviction, they will automatically be barred from receiving any alimony or spousal support in a separation or divorce.
  • A spouse has a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction, then under California law, there is a rebuttable presumption against awarding them spousal support.

These apply to both temporary and permanent spousal support. However, it’s not automatic or guaranteed that the convicted spouse won’t receive alimony in misdemeanor convictions. With a rebuttable presumption, the party convicted of abuse has the opportunity to present their case to the court as to why they should receive spousal support, despite their history of a domestic violence misdemeanor conviction. In an attempt to receive support, they can present the following:

  • Evidence of mutual abuse to level the playing field (so to speak)
  • Evidence that they were actually the victim of abuse and not the abuser

A rebuttable presumption frequently happens in cases of domestic violence by each spouse against the other.

The court is permitted to consider all just and equitable factors when deciding if that spouse should receive spousal support or not. Even still, the law has a strong bias against giving alimony to a convicted domestic abuser. The presumption can be challenging to overcome, depending on the facts surrounding the domestic violence conviction.

What Is Domestic Abuse in a California Divorce?

California laws broadly define domestic abuse to include:

  • Physical assault, sexual assault, or emotional abuse
  • Harassment, stalking, threats, or intimidation
  • Isolation or deprivation or basic needs
  • Excessive monitoring or control of economic resources

To help prove domestic abuse in a divorce case, the victim can present the following types of evidence:

  • A misdemeanor or felony domestic violence criminal conviction in the past five years
  • Pictures, records, and medical records of injuries sustained in the abuse
  • Restraining or protective orders filed for abusive behavior
  • Domestic violence charges “no contest” pleas
  • Verbal or written threats
  • Restraining order violations
  • Corroborative witness testimony
  • Evidence of stalking, harassment, or intimidation
  • Documentation from law enforcement or child protective services (CPS)

Does Your Divorce Involve Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence is a serious issue but an unfortunate reality for many California spouses. Intimate partner violence can happen to anyone, the homeless, the middle class, and even those in the highest echelons of business and industry leadership. Divorces can quickly become quite complex when domestic violence charges or accusations are involved.

California is undoubtedly a no-fault divorce state. However, proof of domestic violence will play a role in nearly all issues facing a divorcing couple, including:

  • Spousal support
  • Child custody
  • Property division

Suppose your divorce involves charges or allegations of domestic violence or abuse. In that case, it’s imperative that you hire a seasoned divorce attorney who has experience with cases similar to yours. Call an experienced attorney today to learn more.