Spousal support can become one of the most complex aspects of your California divorce. California family law recognizes that, in many marriages, one spouse has a higher earning capacity than the other.
And in many families, one spouse – more often the wife – remains out of the workforce to care for the couple’s children. Of course, there are marriages where the wife has the higher income.
The law addresses this imbalance by allowing courts to order one spouse to pay spousal support to the other spouse.
Frequently Asked Questions About Spousal Support
- What is spousal support, and why should I care about it?
Spousal support is the legal term used for the payments one spouse makes to the other after a divorce. It’s intended to help maintain the former spouse’s standard of living during the marriage. When one spouse has either been out of the workforce for an extended time, or lacks the skills to quickly attain a well-paying position, the court awards spousal support to bridge the gap between the divorce and the time it takes for the person to obtain employment that will meet their costs of living needs.
For the person paying support, it is often the largest financial duty incurred as part of the divorce. For the person receiving it, it is often a lifeline that helps them get back on their feet.
2. How is the amount of spousal support determined?
When your case is first filed, the court can make what’s called a temporary order for spousal support. These payments tend to follow a simple formula: take 40% of the higher earner’s income and deduct 50% of the lower earner’s income. At the end of your divorce, the court determines if one spouse is entitled to long or short term spousal support. In these cases, California’s Family Code requires the court to take a much more holistic approach and consider factors that include:
- The marital standard of living.
- Each spouse’s current income
- The extent to which the earning ability of the spouse requesting support was harmed by being out of the workforce.
- The assets, debts, and needs of each spouse.
- The length of the marriage.
3. What is the 10-year rule?
Under California Family Code Section 4336, marriages of over 10 years are considered of “long duration.” In these cases, the law prohibits the court from setting a definite termination date for spousal support at the time it is ordered. While the court can find that a marriage of less than 10 years also qualifies as a marriage of long duration, spousal support in these instances is typically paid over a period that is equal to half the length of the marriage.
4. Does child support affect spousal support?
California law is clear that the most significant obligation owed by parents is the support of their children. In a divorce, child support has priority over spousal support. It’s not uncommon that once child support is ordered, there is little to no disposable income available to pay spousal support.
5. What happens if someone just stops paying spousal support?
All spousal support orders continue until they are terminated by the court or modified by a subsequent court order. A spousal support obligation cannot arbitrarily be stopped by the person paying. Any modification or termination must be done through proper legal channels.
Failure to do so can incur substantial support arrearages, and the law imposes interest of 10% per annum on any unpaid balance. There can be other serious consequences, which a qualified family law attorney can discuss with you.