How is Spousal Support Calculated?

Child and spousal support

In California, there are two types of spousal support: temporary and permanent (or long-term support). 

Temporary support is support that is ordered before your final judgment of dissolution. Permanent or long-term support is ordered either at trial or through agreement of the parties in a Marital Settlement Agreement. The amounts for temporary and permanent support are calculated differently, with the Court having broad discretion over permanent or long-term support payments. 

Calculating Spousal Support

Temporary Spousal Support Awards

Temporary spousal support, also referred to as pendente lite support, is calculated using a guideline that takes into account each parties’ income, tax filing status, and deductions (such as mortgage interest, health insurance payments, and mandatory retirement). 

Courts and attorneys use a program called DissoMaster to determine the guideline amounts for spousal support, and child support, payments. The goal of temporary support is to preserve the status quo in terms of the standard of living during the marriage for the supported party pending final judgment of dissolution. While the Court has discretion in setting an amount of temporary spousal support (SS) payment, most of the time a judge will order guideline support pending final judgment. 

Permanent and Long-term Spousal Support Awards

Permanent (long-term) support is calculated based on Family Code §4320 Factors, as well as the length of marriage. The Court weighs the factors set forth in this code section to determine an appropriate amount of support. 

In California, a marriage longer than 10 years is presumed to be a “long-term marriage” and puts the possibility of permanent support on the table. A marriage of less than 10 years is a short-term marriage and takes permanent support off the table in most cases. 

In a short-term marriage, it is likely the Court will set a termination date for the support. This means there will be a specific date in the judgment which indicates when support is set to terminate. The paying spouse will no longer have to pay spousal support to the recipient spouse on this date. 

Once spousal support is terminated, the Court loses jurisdiction over the issue and can never order support in that specific case again. 

Support is calculated the same way, regardless of whether it is permanent or long-term spousal support. In setting permanent or long-term support, the focus is on the marital standard of living: the goal is to allow both parties to maintain as close a lifestyle to the one enjoyed during the marriage as possible. 

The Court considers factors such as the length of the marriage, periods of unemployment for child-rearing, whether one spouse supported the other’s career to the detriment of their own career, and the skills of the support party and whether job training or continuing education is required. Additionally, the court will consider the lifestyle of the parties during the marriage. It is imperative you set forth all relevant factors and a family law attorney can assist you to make sure you do so. 

The Court has broad discretion in setting long-term or permanent support and that means there is no set way to determine what the exact amount of support will be. The Court must have a clear understanding of the Family Code §4320 factors so they can consider all relevant circumstances when setting support. These factors must then be outlined in any judgment or Marital Settlement Agreement.

Regardless of whether support is permanent or long-term, the Court wants the supported spouse to become self-supporting if no extenuating circumstances are preventing him or her from doing so. The court expects healthy people to obtain gainful employment within a reasonable period of time. In most cases, the Court considers one half the length of the marriage to be a reasonable period of time for a supported spouse to get back on their feet and obtain any training necessary to be able to support themselves. 

Can Spousal Support Be Modified?

Whether you receive or pay support, a substantial change in circumstances can be grounds to modify a support order. A change in circumstances can be loss of a job, retirement, cohabitation with a romantic partner, or an unforeseen medical issue. An attorney can help you determine whether you have grounds to seek modification of spousal support, even if you have a permanent order. 

If you have any questions regarding Spousal Support, do not hesitate to contact our attorneys at JWB Family Law.

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