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How Is Spousal Support Determined in California?

Divorce is an emotionally troubling time. There are several layers of grief and even trauma you must work through. On top of that, there are real, pragmatic concerns. How could this split affect your finances and your assets? If one spouse was a stay-at-home parent, how will they support themselves after the divorce? Similar questions can haunt the primary breadwinner as well. How much of their income can they keep, and how much will go to support their former spouse?

In California, you can decide on spousal support among yourselves. Barring that, courts use a complicated, 14-point system when determining spousal support.

Deciding on Spousal Support Yourselves

Your first and best option is to decide among yourselves how to handle support. This can be done in an uncontested divorce. The couple decides to avoid court and chooses how to move forward. In an uncontested divorce, you can make decisions on property division, spousal support, child custody and support, etc. Once you’ve made your decisions, you put your plan in writing and submit it to the courts. An uncontested divorce takes about six months, and it avoids a lot of grief and expenses in court. Unfortunately, this is not an option for many. When there is bad blood between you, the matter could be settled in court.

Spousal Support Decided by the Courts

Temporary Spousal Support

While the divorce is taking place, the couple is probably living together. This reality could leave one party with only a meager income. They could be unemployed, minimally employed, or far less affluent than their spouse. This can be a real burden on them. Courts can make decisions on temporary spousal support in such situations. Before the divorce is finalized, one person could be ordered to support the other until the process has ended.

California has a specific formula for temporary spousal support. The party who makes more money must give the lesser earner 40% of their income, minus one-half of the lesser earner’s income.

Let’s look at that formula with real numbers.

  • Jim’s monthly income is $5,000, and Jane’s is $3,750. The court orders Jim to pay temporary spousal support.
  • Forty percent of Jim’s income is $2,000. One-half of Jane’s income is $1875.
  • $2000 – $1875 = $125
  • Jim is ordered to pay $125 a month to Jane until the divorce is finalized.

Property Division

When dividing assets, California uses a “community property division” model. In essence, any property – from a t-shirt to real estate – that is purchased during the marriage is marital property. It doesn’t matter who bought the item or who used it. When California courts divide property in a divorce, they use an equality model. Essentially, they give each party 50% of the overall marital assets. When it comes to houses, cars, and other tangible property, the assets can be sold, and the money is split between the two. If that is not an option, someone could keep one item in exchange for losing another. For example, one person keeps the house, and the other gets all the vehicles. This exchange continues until each party has 50% of the overall community property value. Courts could also order one party to pay the other for one-half the value of the home, car, etc.

Permanent spousal support is decided after property is divided.

Permanent Spousal Support

Often called a “post-divorce judgement,” permanent spousal support is what the supporter can expect to pay for a long time. There are cut-off points to the support, depending on the length of the marriage. In shorter marriages, California uses spousal support as a means of transitioning the supported into their new life. It is meant to give them a cushion as they rebuild. When a marriage lasted for less than 10 years, support lasts for one-half the length of the marriage. If a marriage ended after 5 years, the supporter can expect to pay for at least 2.5 years. Spousal support can last indefinitely if the marriage ended after 10 years or longer.

The 14 Determining Factors of Permanent Spousal Support

Unlike temporary spousal support, permanent support has no direct formula. There are far more considerations when courts decide on permanent spousal support. Many of these decisions are up to the judge’s discretion.

Here are the 14 factors used to determine permanent spousal support.

  1. How much each person can maintain their standard of living after the divorce. Judges will look at each person’s income. They also consider potential earnings based on each person’s job, education, marketable skills, the job market, etc.
  2. How much the supported person contributed to the supporter’s earnings and earning potential. If the supported person helped pay for the supporter’s education, for example, the judge could rule that the supported is entitled to more earnings.
  3. How much the supporter can pay based on their income, debts, potential income, standard of living, etc.
  4. What each person needs to maintain their standard of living.
  5. Debts and assets each party has after property is divided.
  6. The length of the marriage.
  7. The supported person’s ability to work, including their future earning potential. If they have custody of the children, their ability to simultaneously work and care for the kids is considered.
  8. Each person’s age and health.
  9. Evidence of domestic violence and/or abuse. If the supported was abused, they could receive more money. If the supporter was abused, they could pay less in support.
  10. How the divorce affects each person’s taxes.
  11. How much financial hardship each person will suffer after the divorce. The court’s job is to balance this suffering, making sure there is no undue stress placed on just one person.
  12. How much the supported person needs to become self-sustaining. This does not apply to spousal support with no termination date.
  13. Whether an alleged abuser was criminally convicted for their abuse.
  14. Anything else that the court deems “just and equitable.” Even though California is an equal distribution state, judges can use this standard to make spousal support more equitable, or fair.

If you are considering divorce and have concerns about spousal support, contact us today. We are here to help guide California residents through the dissolution process. Our number is (916) 299-3936, and you can reach us online. Initial consultations are free.