How Is Spousal Support Calculated in California?
When a couple legally separates or divorces, the court may order one member of the couple to pay monthly spousal support. Individuals who were involved in a domestic partnership may similarly be paid partner support. The purpose of spousal support is to enable both members of the couple to retain, if possible, a standard of living close to what they enjoyed during the marriage or partnership. A judge may also award spousal or partner support to help one member of the couple get the training they need to pursue a new career. The court expects that the spouse or partner receiving support will no longer need it within a “reasonable period of time.”
How does the court determine the amount of support?
The amount and duration of spousal or domestic partner support depends on a variety of circumstances, and a family court judge will not use a defined formula. Instead, the judge will consider the factors listed in California Family Code section 4320 to make a decision, including the following:
- The length of the marriage or domestic partnership;
- What each person needs based on the standard of living they had during the marriage or domestic partnership;
- What each person pays or can pay (including earnings and earning capacity) to keep the standard of living they had during the marriage or domestic partnership;
- Whether having a job would make it too hard to take care of children;
- The age and health of both people;
- Debts and property;
- Whether 1 spouse or domestic partner helped the other get an education, training, career, or professional license;
- Whether there was domestic violence in the marriage or domestic partnership;
- Whether one spouse’s, or domestic partner’s, career was affected by unemployment or by taking care of the children or home; and
- The tax impact of spousal support (note: federal and state tax laws have not been changed to recognize domestic partnerships).
The judge’s order for support becomes part of the couple’s divorce or legal separation agreement. The amount of support paid can change over time if circumstances change. For example, if the payor loses their job and has a significant drop in income, support payments may be lowered. Or, if the recipient remarries or enters into a new domestic partnership, their support payments will end.
Can the couple determine the amount of spousal support themselves?
If you and your ex-spouse or ex-partner can agree on the amount of monthly support to be paid and the length of time it will be provided, you don’t need to leave it up to a judge. Working with a divorce mediation attorney can help you determine what amount of support will be fair. If you and your ex are able to decide the amount of support yourselves, you’ll sign a written agreement, which a judge will then need to accept and sign as a court order.
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Warren Major LLP is a Marin County CA family law firm specializing in divorce, child custody and support, marital contracts and other family law issues.
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