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Spousal Support

In many marriages, there is a disparity of income between spouses; in some instances, one spouse will forego working outside the home to take care of household obligations. It is not surprising, then, that in many divorce actions, the lesser earning spouse will raise concerns about their ability to provide for themselves. In such instances, the Court may issue an order requiring the higher-earning party to pay spousal support. Spousal support claims could potentially impact the rights and obligations of both parties; as such, it is important for anyone involved in a divorce action to understand the effect of a spousal support order. If you have questions regarding support orders, you should contact a knowledgeable San Diego spousal support attorney to assess your options for seeking a favorable outcome.

Types and Length of Spousal Support

California law provides for multiple types of spousal support the Courts can order a party to pay that varies in the length for which they must be paid. For example, Courts may order parties to pay permanent and temporary spousal support. Typically, a party will request temporary spousal support when their divorce is pending and pre-judgment. If the Court chooses to grant their request, the paying spouse will typically owe the receiving spouse support until the divorce becomes final or another order is made. Essentially, the goal of temporary spousal support is to help the receiving party pay for the cost of living and other expenses until the Court divides and distributes any community property and can assess what amount would be in accord with California family law for a permanent order. A permanent spousal support order is termed for post-judgment. Permanent spousal support will [generally] only terminate if the party receiving support remarries or dies or a motion is filed to modify.

In many cases, the Courts will order a party to pay temporary and/or permanent spousal support until the party receiving the support obtains the ability to gain financial independence. In other words, the party receiving support may need to seek employment, go back to school, or otherwise obtain the skills necessary to earn an income sufficient to support themselves.

Grounds for Awarding Spousal Support

In California, support obligations can arise under multiple circumstances. For example, a couple in the process of ending their marriage may come to an agreement regarding support and memorialize the terms of the agreement in writing. As long as such agreements are properly executed, they will be upheld by the Courts in most circumstances. In some cases, spousal support obligations arise out of prenuptial agreements. It is not uncommon for a party to object to pre-marital agreements on the grounds that they are unconscionable during a divorce. While the Courts will generally enforce prenuptial agreements if they were executed in accordance with the Uniform Premarital Agreement Act (UPAA), they may deem them unenforceable if they find they are unfair. For example, if they were the product of fraud or duress or were entered into without full disclosure of each party's assets and liabilities. Judges may also choose to overturn agreements that leave a party without sufficient financial resources or unfairly favor one spouse. Family Law Code Section 1615 contains factors, which the Court can use to determine if the pre-nuptial agreement will be enforced or set aside. This is a very complex area of the law.

Absent an agreement between the parties, the Courts will order one party to pay the other spousal support if, in consideration of any relevant circumstances, such payments are warranted. The Courts may consider multiple factors when conducting an evaluation as to whether spousal support is appropriate. For instance, they may examine the age, earning potential, and mental and physical health of each party. The Courts will also usually look at the financial assets of each spouse, and the standard of living the couple enjoyed while they were married. The Courts will also look at whether one party bears the primary responsibility of caring for minor children born of the marriage and whether one spouse assisted the other with advancing their career or education, thereby increasing their financial gains. Finally, the Courts may weigh the ability of the obligor spouse to provide financial support and whether either party has engaged in acts that would constitute domestic violence. In determining whether to issue an order granting spousal support, the Courts will often examine the parties' financial records, tax returns, employment records, and if their health is at issue, their health records. For prejudgment spousal support [temporary spousal support], the Court can use the Disso Master Program or use the Family Law Code Section 4320 factors and has this discretion. For post-judgment spousal support orders and/or orders for modification of permanent spousal support, the Court is prohibited from using the Disso Master and must use the Family Law Code Section 4320 factors. This can be very complex in analysis.

Modification of Spousal Support Orders Under California Law

In many instances, spousal support obligations will endure for years. As situations can change over time, what was initially an appropriate support obligation may become unsuitable over time. As such, California law permits either party subject to a spousal support order to move for a modification absent an order that the spousal support is non-modifiable. Generally, a party seeking a modification of an existing support order must show that a substantial change in circumstances has occurred.

Things that may be considered a change in circumstances significant enough to warrant a modification include an increase or decrease in either party's income, change in employment, including retirement, newly developed health issues, and the remarriage of the party receiving support. The Courts may also consider whether the party receiving support refuses to comply with a plan to become self-supporting or either party voluntarily reduced their income.

Speak to an Experienced California Divorce Attorney

If you anticipate you or your estranged spouse will seek support in a divorce action, it is in your best interest to hire a lawyer who will fight to protect your interests. At Doppelt and Forney APLC, our experienced San Diego divorce attorneys endeavor to help our clients pursue fair outcomes in an efficient manner, and if we represent you, we will advocate zealously on your behalf. You can reach us through our online form or call us at 800-769-4748 to set up a free and confidential meeting.

2023 Update: How Is Spousal Support Calculated?

Spousal support, also called alimony, is ordered in San Diego Family Law Court in a divorce or legal separation. The major issues for spousal support are amount and duration. Before the legal analysis is performed regarding duration and amount, the procedural posture must first be determined as there are different laws and codes whether the case is pre-judgment or post-judgment. For pre-judgment spousal support, the Judge will often use the disso master calculation. Your attorney can perform this calculation for you as the attorneys buy the same program the Judge’s use in family law court so you can have realistic expectations. For pre-judgment spousal support in San Diego Superior Court- Family Law Division, the Judges also can use the Family Law Code Section 4320 factors. For permanent spousal support orders [not temporary], the Court will use the 4320 factors to decide the amount of spousal support. For duration, if the marriage is less than 10 years, then the marriage is considered one of “short duration” and the spousal support can be one-half the duration of the marriage but can be extended depending on certain factors. For marriages over 10 years, Family Law Code Section 4336 states that the Judge should not set a termination date of one-half the duration of the marriage [or any termination date] at the initial judgment. For your reference, a link is provided to the California Court’s Website.

Can Men Get Spousal Support?

Spousal support, in 2023, is gender neutral. A San Diego Superior Court Judge will apply the same law whether male or female. If the Judge is using the Family Law Code Section 4320 for factors to make the spousal support order amount, below is a list of some of the factors and not in order of any priority. The Judge, of course, always has discretion whether to order spousal support.

  • duration of marriage
  • needs of each party
  • ability to pay of each party
  • health and age of the spouses
  • history of domestic violence
  • marital standard of living
  • income of both parties

Link follows to the California Court’s Website for self-help information on spousal support.

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