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Calculating Spousal Support In California

Since spousal support is subject to considerable discretion by the court, it is imperative that you have a family lawyer by your side to ensure a fair award.

Factors Considered by the Judge

An award is not mandatory in dissolution or legal separation proceedings in California. The courts have discretion, within the statutory parameters, to deny spousal support altogether or to limit it in an amount and duration that reflects the ability of both parties to provide for their own needs.

In approaching the weighing process, the courts will take various factors into consideration. Here are the factors from Family Code § 4320 that the judge is to consider in awarding support pursuant to a judgment:

  • The job skills of the party seeking support and his or her need for training or education
  • The reduction of the supported party’s earning capacity caused by being out of the job market to tend to the home or children
  • The supported party’s contribution to the other party’s education, training, career, or license
  • The supporting party’s ability to pay
  • Each party’s needs based on their standard of living during the relationship
  • Each party’s obligations and assets
  • The length of the marriage or domestic partnership
  • The supported party’s ability to work without unduly interfering with the interests of the children
  • The age and health of the parties
  • Any history of domestic violence
  • The tax consequences to each party
  • Ability to maintain marital standards of living in light of earning capacities
  • Balancing of hardships to each party
  • Other “just and equitable” factors

Your lawyer can go over each of these factors and how each will impact the award in your divorce proceedings in more detail.

Modification of Orders

If the supported party is no longer in need, or a detrimental change in the obligatory party’s needs or ability to pay outweighs the others need for support, proceedings to eliminate or reduce support can be brought on the basis of “changed circumstances.” You will need the help of a family lawyer to effectively pursue a modification of orders.

How the Court Determines Spousal Support

If you are divorcing or ending a domestic partnership, you may be entitled to spousal support or obligated to pay it.  Divorcing clients often ask their lawyer to assess how much support a court will order.

Temporary Spousal Support

Temporary (pendente lite) spousal support is generally ordered in order to preserve the status quo. Temporary spousal support differs from “permanent” or long-term spousal support awarded in a judgment.  To set long-term spousal support, the judge must follow and consider the Family Code § 4320 factors set forth below.

Generally speaking, it is up to the judge’s discretion how much temporary spousal support is appropriate. Temporary spousal support may be based on need and ability to pay. Marriage of Tong & Samson (2011). Judges are entitled to rely on computer software programs such as Dissomaster in setting temporary spousal support.

Long-Term or “Permanent” Support (Awarded per a Judgment)

Determining the amount and duration is not an exact science.  California statutes provide a list of factors that the judge will consider. But the judge has discretion in coming up with the final figure.  A court may order support in any amount for as long as the court deems just and reasonable based on the standard of living that the parties had during their marriage. Family Code § 4330.

Case Law

In countless cases, the courts have addressed the complexities and issues involved in spousal support.  Below are some of the cases that you may find informative.  Citations have been omitted. The law is subject to change and cases set forth below must be checked for updates. Check with legal counsel as to applicability of the cases to your particular facts.

  • The judge can order the paying spouse to add the supported spouse as a beneficiary of a life insurance policy as additional spousal support. O’Connell.
  • The judge cannot base long-term support primarily on temporary support guidelines. Schulze, Zywiciel.
  • The judge cannot force the paying spouse to pay spousal support in a lump sum. Even though the judge lacks this power, the spouses can agree that one will pay the other spousal support in a lump sum. Prietsch; Calhoun.
  • Under this case, the judge has a basis to award the supported spouse a share of the supporting spouse’s future bonuses to maintain the supported spouse’s marital standard of living.  Ostler and Smith

We Can Help

Making arguments to a court that you deserve spousal support is not an easy task. You need the assistance of a family lawyer who is well versed in the factors that the court will consider in ordering spousal support. The above information is not intended as specific advice for any case.  It is for general education purposes only. If you need answers to specific questions and want to speak with an understanding, knowledgeable Ventura County based divorce lawyer, I invite you to call me.

To schedule an initial Strategy Session with us, please contact Lisa Zonder at (866) 632-6459.

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