Tarek El Moussa, one of the hosts of HGTV’s popular Flip or Flop house makeover and resale program, demanded spousal support from soon-to-be-ex-wife and series co-host Christina El Moussa.
The couple, who married in 2009, apparently began having problems several years ago. Those issues came to a head in May 2016, when officers responded to a disturbance call at the couple’s Yorba Linda residence. Allegedly, the couple had a row and Mr. El Moussa fled the residence with a firearm in a suicidal state of mind. After he convinced officers that he was simply blowing off steam, they departed the scene, no arrests were made, and no charges were filed. Nevertheless, the couple formally separated shortly thereafter. In the divorce papers, Mr. El Moussa offered no basis for his request for spousal support.
Meanwhile, HGTV network executives, who apparently relied on the couple’s marriage to help this show stand out from the slew of similar reality programs, have supposedly threatened to sue the couple for breach of contract if they do not either reconcile or at least work together amicably.
Nontraditional Spousal Support
According to the Census Bureau, 40 percent of American households feature female “breadwinner” spouses who provide the primary, or only, source of income for the family. Yet less than 3 percent of divorced men receive spousal support payments. Observers say that many men are “shamed” into not asking for support because either they or their peers consider such requests to be emasculating. Furthermore, breadwinning female spouses often fight such requests, and the limited-income husbands sometimes have little financial resources with which to fight such court battles.
There may be a different dynamic as well. Divorced men usually rebuild wealth faster than divorced women, so they are often more optimistic about future financial prospects and see less need for spousal support. Many people, both men and women, are also more than willing to make financial sacrifices if they believe that such moves will foster a better co-parenting relationship.
Alimony Factors in California
According to Hossein Berenji, an attorney at Berenji & Associates Divorce Lawyers in Los Angeles, CA, “Spouses are not automatically entitled to alimony in California, although there is a strong legal presumption in favor of spousal support.” That presumption has changed over the years. Whereas many spouses once received support payments based on little more than the obligor spouse’s ability to pay, “most courts now balance that element with the obligee spouse’s financial need, and specifically what amount and duration of payments is needed to help obligee spouses become economically self-sufficient,” says Mr. Berenji
The primary factors, which are designed to give obligee spouses basically the same standard of living in divorce as they had while married, are laid out in Section 4320 of the California Family Code. Some of the major ones are:
- Future Earning Potential: In addition to considering employment prospects and the current level of marketable skills, the court may also consider the time and money required (if any) to enhance these skills to the level that the person is self-sufficient.
- Noneconomic Contributions: Many “caretaker” spouses put their careers on hold to assume this role, and people with extended gaps on their resumes are often at a competitive disadvantage in terms of both hireability and compensation.
- Relative Health and Age of the Parties: If one spouse probably has significantly more working years ahead of him or her, the court may adjust the amount of spousal support accordingly.
- Spousal Agreements: Most California judges honor voluntary pacts between husbands and wives, as long as such agreements are not blatantly one-sided.
Other factors include prior domestic violence convictions, the amount of both community and separate property awarded to each spouse, and custody provisions for minor children (especially if they are disabled).
Amount and Duration of Payments
California’s alimony system is highly subjective in terms of necessity, amount, and duration of payments, and although such systems have come under scrutiny in many other states, there has been very little reform effort in the Golden State.
To determine the amount of payments, most judges apply the 4320 factors, specifically with an eye toward self-sufficiency. As for the duration of payments, there is a rebuttable presumption that obligor spouses should pay support only until obligee spouses can become self-sufficient, and according to 4320(2)(l), that self-sufficiency must occur within “a reasonable period of time.” Courts have consistently defined this phrase to mean half the length of the relationship if the marriage lasted less than ten years; this presumption does not apply in longer marriages.