Spousal Support

Spousal Support and alimony are the same thing. California law calls it spousal support. The two questions are:  How much is paid or received and for how long?

Spousal support can only be ordered when the party files for a dissolution of marriage, legal separation, or annulment. In other words, no matter how long a man and a woman live together, they cannot ask for spousal support UNLESS there was a marriage.

There is no recognition in California of a common law marriage.

There are two types of spousal support: temporary and permanent.

Temporary support is awarded usually early in the course of litigation. The purpose is to distribute the family income so that both parties can maintain their standard of living. Stanislaus County judges use a computer to generate the temporary spousal support amount.

The basic formula is 40% of the payor’s net income minus 50% of the recipient’s income. For example, if the payor has $3,000.00 per month after taxes and the recipient’s net income is $1,200.00, spousal support is:

            %40 of $3,000.00 = $1,200.00
            %50 of $1,200.00 = $600.00

            Spousal support = $600.00

A wage assignment will be issued for the collection of spousal support.

Temporary spousal support will usually remain in effect until the parties reach an agreement or the court decides permanent spousal support.

There is also a provision in the law for calculating the length of time that the court should order spousal support.  If the marriage is less than ten years from the date of the marriage to the date of the separation, the presumption is that the support should last for one-half the length of the marriage.  If the marriage was longer than ten years, the court is to order support. (if appropriate) or leave the door open indefinitely for future spousal support.

The underlying premise for spousal support is always whether the party requesting support needs the support and then whether the party being requested to pay support has the ability to do so.

If parties do not reach an agreement on permanent spousal support, the judge will do so, if requested.

There are a number of criteria that a judge looks at in arriving at the permanent spousal support amount.

There may be variations depending on the specific case. For example, if the recipient expects to finish a college program in four years and then become employed, the judge may order spousal support for four years and require a review before it is continued.

If there is a finding that the recipient has the capability to be trained and eventually fully employed, the judge may order an amount for a period of time. At the end of that period of time, the amount will automatically be reduced.

For example, $1,000.00 for 2 years, $600.00 for 4 years, $200.00for 4 years and then 0 for thereafter.

The criteria to be evaluated by the judge includes:

  1. Need of recipient (living expenses)

  2. Ability to pay by payor

  3. Age and health of  parties

  4. Educational level of parties

  5. Earning ability of parties

  6. Out of job market time to raise children

  7. Trainability of recipient spouse

  8. History of domestic violence

  9. Any other factors that appear just to consider

  10. Marital standard of living during marriage

The trial judge will render a decision regarding the spousal support amount and the length of  time it is to be paid.

Is it all over once the permanent order is made?

No, spousal support is one of the few areas in family law where the court can modify the order. The test for modification is whether or not is whether there is a substantial change of circumstances since the order was made.

If the payor loses a job, or the recipient obtains a better paying job, this is a change of circumstance.

If there is a change of circumstance the party seeking a change in support order may petition the court for a modification.

The judge will hear evidence about the need for the change. The judge has discretion to make the change according to the request or a variation from the request.


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