Spousal support (sometimes referred to as “alimony”) is often granted in divorce cases. However, because there are many factors the court considers when determining spousal support, this area of law can become complicated.
Firstly, it’s important to understand that contrary to popular misconception, spousal support is not ordered to “punish” one spouse or to allow a spouse to “live off” the other forever. The goal of spousal support is to financially support the person receiving support so they can become self-supporting within a reasonable time. Except in cases of long term marriages (10+ years), a “reasonable period of time” is typically one-half the length of the marriage. (Although the court has the discretion to order support for more or less time based on the unique circumstances of each case).
The amount of spousal support the court will order varies from case to case but generally, is determined by applying what’s known as Family Code § 4320 factors. Many find the legal terminology in Family Code § 4320, to be confusing. However, in plain English, these factors allow the court to consider the following:
- The earning potential of each party and the likelihood they can maintain the standard of living established during their marriage,
- The extent that the party seeking support contributed to the education, career advancement, training, licensing, etc. of the other party (i.e. if one party was a stay at home parent which allowed the other to attend college, work towards a promotion, etc.)
- The ability of the parties to pay support
- The needs of the parties including their financial obligations and assets.
- The length of the marriage.
- The ability of the supported party to obtain employment
- The age and health of the parties.
- Documented evidence of any history of domestic violence, as defined in California Family Code Section 6211, between the parties.
- Tax consequences to each party.
- The balance of the hardships to each party.
- Any other factors the court determines are just and equitable.
Because the court has such wide discretion, and because there are so many factors to be considered when making a spousal support order, it’s important to speak with a competent family law attorney to ensure that you don’t pay more support or receive less than is fair based on your personal situation.