When mentioning spousal support, it's not uncommon to find that many people don't really understand how it works. So here's a brief outline explaining the basics of spousal support. California spousal support is governed by California Family Code Section 4320. California courts have discretion in granting the amount and length of time of spousal support.
There are different types of Spousal Support and these are listed below:
Individuals who have been married, but are getting divorced may seek spousal support during the divorce proceedings. Spousal support can be established in a prenuptial agreement, it can be mutually agreed upon by the parties and presented to the court during discovery, or if no agreement can be reached the court will consider the facts as presented and award it based on the financial status of each of the parties and the nature of the lifestyle enjoyed by the couple during the marriage.
California courts will consider the following in determining spousal support:
- Temporary - may be available during the divorce proceedings and does not effect the amount of spousal support granted in the final disposition.
- Short-Term - the court will determine the length of spousal support payments based on the length of marriage. If the marriage was short (less than five years), the court may grant support for a short length of time.
- Long-Term or Permanent - marriages lasting ten years or longer are considered lengthy under California law. The court has discretion to grant long-term or permanent support in these cases. California courts do not favor granting support indefinitely.
- Whether the earning capacity of each party is sufficient to maintain the standard of living established during marriage, taking into account:
- Skills of the supported party; job market; time and expenses to acquire education or training to develop those skills; and need for retraining or education to acquire other, more marketable skills or employment.
- Whether the supported party's earning capacity is impaired by periods of unemployment incurred during the marriage to devote time to domestic duties.
- Whether the supported party contributed to an education, training, a career position, or a license by the supporting party.
- Ability to pay spousal support, taking into account earning capacity, assets, and standard of living.
- The needs of each party based on standard of living established during marriage.
- Obligations and assets, including separate property, of each party.
- Duration of the marriage.
- Ability of the supported party to work considering the interests of dependent children.
- Age and health of the parties.
- Evidence of any history of domestic violence.
- Tax consequences to each party.
- Balance of hardships to each party.
- Any other factors the court determines to be in the interest of justice.
Once the court determines the spousal support payment schedule and amount, the only thing that will result in consideration of a modification is change of circumstances. If one or both parties to the support agreement have a sudden shift in income, then the court has discretion to consider a modification. Since most spouses work, spousal support (if necessary at all), is usually for finite period of time and modest amount. Spousal support in California can continue for an indefinite period, and it may be increased or decreased if there is a change in either party's circumstances.
California spousal support lasts for however long the court determines. There is a rule of thumb for marriages that last less than ten years that the spousal support will last for half as long as the marriage; however, the court may grant it for less or more time depending on the circumstances. Marriages that are longer than ten years are considered long-term. Also don't forget that spousal support from a former spouse is taxable in the year it is received. Thus, you must claim it as income on your tax return.
If you are faced with the prospect of paying or receiving spousal support due to divorce, consult a family law attorney. An attorney will advocate on your behalf, help you understand your rights and guide you through the process. I offer a free initial consultation where you can get your questions answered and receive the right advice and any help that you need.