Which Support Payments Qualify as Alimony in California’s Courts?


Alexandria Gojny


Faculty editor: Paul Horton
Publication: Contemporary Legal Issues
Volume: 22
Start Page: 10
Month: December
Year: 2015
Type: Article


Our tendency is to explore the question of what post-divorce payments constitute, or could constitute, “alimony” with a view to negotiation in the shadow of federal law. Whether it’s “alimony” is an important question in federal tax law. It can be an important question in bankruptcy proceedings. These bodies of federal law have been discussed elsewhere in this two-part symposium.
Our concern here, however, is with the California divorce court’s authority to enter these awards, and their status as alimony (or not), in contested proceedings. We may assume that the divorce court could achieve a rough equivalent of these financial awards simply by ordering Henry to pay Wanda “$3500 per month in child support and $7750 per month in spousal support so long as Wanda continues to live in the family home, the latter to step down to $6500 per month after two years, to $6150 after three years, to $5960 after four years, to be reduced by $1650 per month when sale of the family home becomes final, and to terminate in five years or on Wanda’s death or remarriage, Henry’s death, or further order of court whichever comes earliest.” Our divorce court has not done so. In the analysis that follows here, we should be interested in learning why the court might have chosen several separate awards and what the effects of the choice might be in the main contexts—appeal, modification, taxation, and bankruptcy—in which the choice might lead to a difference in result.