Understanding California Spousal Support Guidelines
Knowing your rights or obligations regarding spousal support is extremely important before filing for divorce. Learning why support is offered, how long it will be paid, and exactly how much will need to be provided will help you be better prepared for what to expect. Here is a simple breakdown of the most basic and necessary information about spousal support.
What is Spousal Support?
- Spousal support, also known as alimony, is the term used for payments from one spouse to another after a divorce has been filed. It is broken down into two types: temporary and permanent. These terms are legal terms and not to be confused with the common definitions of temporary and permanent.
- Temporary support is spousal support that is ordered while a divorce is pending. It does not expire, nor is there a set period of time for support.
- Permanent spousal support is more accurately referred to as “post-divorce judgment” support. It is based on a set of 14 different factors, ranging from the length of the marriage to the marital standard of living.
What is the Purpose of Spousal Support?
- Temporary spousal support is to maintain the living conditions and standards of both parties until permanent support has been determined, along with the final division of assets and debts.
- The purpose of the permanent spousal support is different. It is to provide the spouse with sufficient income for their basic needs and to ensure that their lifestyle will be able to remain consistent after the divorce.
- It is the policy of the State of California that both parties become self-supporting within a reasonable amount of time. Spousal support is meant to bridge that gap between the time it takes for the supported spouse to obtain employment or resources that meet their cost of living needs.
How Long Will I Pay or Receive Spousal Support?
- The length of spousal support is based on a reasonable transition period from married life to single and self-sufficient life.
- The duration of support depends on in part on the length of the marriage. For marriages lasting less than ten years, the length of support is presumed to be equal to one-half of the time. For example, for a marriage that lasted eight years, the presumption is that the appropriate length of support is four years.
- If you are married for longer than 10 years, the lesser earning spouse will receive support for as long as he or she needs to, as long as the other spouse is able to pay. There is no automatic termination date.
How Much Spousal Support Will be Ordered?
- In California, the Superior Courts of Solano counties have adopted a spousal support guideline called the “Santa Clara Guideline” formula for use in temporary spousal support. Alameda and Contra Costa counties have adopted the “Alameda Guideline” formula. The guideline states that the paying spouse’s support be presumptively 40% of his or her net monthly income, reduced by one-half of the receiving spouse’s net monthly income. If child support is an issue, spousal support is calculated after child support is calculated.
- Deciding permanent support is a much more detailed process with many factors to be considered. The controlling statute that the court must consider in establishing permanent spousal support states the following:
Family Code Section 4320. In ordering spousal support under this part, the court shall consider all of the following circumstances:
- The extent to which the earning capacity of each party is sufficient to maintain the standard of living established during the marriage, taking into account all of the following:
- The marketable skills of the supported party; the job market for those skills; the time and expenses required for the supported party to acquire the appropriate education or training to develop those skills; and the possible need for retraining or education to acquire other, more marketable skills or employment.
- The extent to which the supported party’s present or future earning capacity is impaired by periods of unemployment that were incurred during the marriage to permit the supported party to devote time to domestic duties.
- The extent to which the supported party contributed to the attainment of an education, training, a career position, or a license by the supporting party.
- The ability of the supporting party to pay spousal support, taking into account the supporting party’s earning capacity, earned and unearned income, assets, and standard of living.
- The needs of each party based on the standard of living established during the marriage.
- The obligations and assets, including the separate property, of each party.
- The duration of the marriage.
- The ability of the supported party to engage in gainful employment without unduly interfering with the interests of dependent children in the custody of the party.
- The age and health of the parties
- Documented evidence of any history of domestic violence, as defined in Section 6211, between the parties, including, but not limited to, consideration of emotional distress resulting from domestic violence perpetrated against the supported party by the supporting party, and consideration of any history of violence against the supporting party by the supported party.
- The immediate and specific tax consequences to each party.
- The balance of the hardships to each party.
- The goal that the supported party shall be self-supporting within a reasonable period of time. Except in the case of a marriage of long duration as described in Section 4336, a “reasonable period of time” for purposes of this section generally shall be one-half the length of the marriage. However, nothing in this section is intended to limit the court’s discretion to order support for a greater or lesser length of time, based on any of the other factors listed in this section, Section 4336, and the circumstances of the parties.
- The criminal conviction of an abusive spouse shall be considered in making a reduction or elimination of a spousal support award in accordance with Section 4325.
- Any other factors the court determines are just and equitable.