The spousal support decision during a divorce can easily turn into a heated topic, and of all issues relating to the divorce process, spousal support may be the most divisive. Frequently, one former spouse believes he or she should not have to support the lifestyle of a former partner post-divorce, or a former spouse believes he or she is entitled to support after the divorce because he or she gave up his or her own career goals to support the goals of the other during marriage. For these reasons, it’s important to understand how courts in California decide spousal support orders during divorce.
In California, a spousal support order must result from a court case, and a court case that provides a spousal support order may stem from a divorce, legal separation, annulment or domestic violence case. During any of these cases or lawsuits spousal or partner support may be paid and is referred to as “temporary spousal support order.” Support can also be ordered once a divorce case or one of the other cases is finalized and is referred to as a “permanent spousal support.” The court will use different methods to calculate support depending on whether it is deciding temporary or permanent support.
Calculating temporary and permanent support
To calculate temporary spousal support, the court will simply use a formula that is specific to the county in which the case is within. However, the court will not use strict formulas when creating a permanent order. Instead the court will use a variety of factors that include:
- The length of the marriage
- Needs based on the standard of living the individual had during marriage
- The ability of the person to maintain the standard of living during marriage
- Debts and property
- Age and health of the parties
- The impact holding a job has on taking care of the children
- Whether one party helped the other while obtaining education, career, or professional license
- Domestic violence
- Tax laws
Two of the above factors are particularly important to understand: the length of the marriage and earning capacity. The court uses the length of the marriage to establish the duration of the final spousal support order. In short, the longer the marriage, the longer in time the order will be in effect.
Length of marriage and earning capacity
The length of the marriage is important because the goal of spousal support is to help the spouse who receives the support provide for him- or herself within a reasonable time period. The longer the marriage, the more dependent a person may become. Therefore, the general rule is a spousal support order will be in effect for one-half the length of the marriage; however, the court has the ability to adjust the order to reflect unique circumstances. In addition, the court may not set an end date for a marriage that was 10 years or longer. The court will also review the earning capacity of both parties.
To review the earning capacity and the standard of living during the marriage the court will look at the marketable skills of the spouse receiving the support, the job market for those skills, time and expense required for the receiving spouse to acquire marketable skills or to acquire a job, and the extent the earning capacity of the receiving spouse was impacted by unemployment because of domestic duties.
A spousal support order ends when the order or another identifies its cessation, when one of the parties deceases, or when the individual who receives support remarries or registers a new domestic partnership.
The divorcing parties may also create their own support agreements outside of a court order; however, the agreement must contain certain items and must be signed by a judge.
For guidance on your spousal support order and for guidance throughout the rest of the divorce process, contact an experienced family law attorney in California who can best preserve your interests.