Law Offices of Keith Banks offers legal assistance to residents of Yolo, Sacramento, Solano and Placer counties working to set, or enforce, a spousal support order.
Next to setting child support and visitation, spousal support can be one of the most emotionally charged aspects of a family law case. Spousal support, also known as alimony, is where one spouse pays the other during, or after, a divorce. Please note that alimony is different from palimony, which is an alimony-like support payment that might be available for unmarried partners in certain situations.
Types of Spousal Support
Support is generally divided into two main types: temporary and permanent.
Temporary support is support that is paid while the divorce is pending. Under California law, the purpose of temporary support is to provide the receiving spouse the funds necessary to build, or re-build, a home separate from the other spouse while maintaining the marriage lifestyle for at least some time.
Permanent support is support that is paid after the divorce is finalized. The purpose of permanent support is to assist the supported spouse in maintaining a standard of living close to the marital standard.
How Much Support Will I Pay?
This is generally the first question that people have when it comes to support. The short answer is that there is no set number for support if the parties cannot mutually agree on a number.
A court may order temporary spousal support in any amount after considering the needs of the spouse requesting it when compared to the other spouse’s ability to pay. In practice, however, the court tends to use approved formulas to analyze the current incomes and debts of both parties and determine an appropriate number. We can help you understand these formulas and what kind of support you might be entitled to or called upon to pay.
The process for determining permanent support is different. Instead of a formula, the court looks to certain factors set out in section 4320 of the Family Code (known short-hand as 4320 factors) when determining the amount of support to be paid. The factors include:
- The duration of the marriage;
- Each spouse’s age and health;
- The ability of the supporting spouse to pay support;
- The needs of each party based on the marital standard of living;
- The balance of hardships to each spouse;
- The marketable skills of the supported spouse with the current job market;
- The goal that the supported spouse will be self-supporting within a reasonable period of time.
As you can see, there are no specific numbers provided within this list. This leaves the court with a significant amount of leeway when deciding the support to be paid. Our goal is to work with you to clearly present your answers to these factors to the court so that your voice can be heard before a number is determined.
How Long Will I Pay Support?
This is generally the second question that people have when it comes to support. Under California law, the length of support is tied to the length of the marriage. If the marriage is for less than 10 years, the court will usually limit support to half the length of the marriage. If the marriage was longer than 10 years, the court will generally not set a termination date. A critical thing to consider, however, is that the court will expect the supported spouse to work towards becoming self-supporting within a reasonable period of time. As a result of this desire, the court may award periodic reductions in permanent support as time passes.
Ultimately, permanent support is not always permanent unless the court decides that age or disability prevents the supported spouse from becoming self-supporting.
How is Spousal Support Different from Child Support?
As discussed under the Child Support section of this website, child support is ‘owned’ by the child. This means that the parents cannot agree on a child support number without the court’s permission.
However, spousal support is completely different. Spouses can agree on any amount without seeking court approval. In fact, this area can often be one of the main tools in negotiation as couples seek to divide. We can help you with this.
Finally, spousal support is tax deductible to the person paying support. The party receiving spousal support must claim it as taxable income. Child support, however, is not tax deductible to the paying party and is not taxable income to the receiving party.
What if You Miss a Payment?
Missing a support payment creates what is known as an “arrear.” A support arrear for spousal support must be paid. Without an agreement by the owed spouse, the arrear cannot be discharged with bankruptcy and cannot be forgiven by the court. Not only will you be required to pay the missed amount, but you will also be required to pay interest. Don't delay in seeking help if you are unsure if you can continue affording to pay support because you have lost your job or your income has significantly decreased.