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How Spousal Support is Determined in Los Angeles and Orange Counties

If there is a disparity in the income of spouses, a spouse may seek temporary support payments (commonly referred to as alimony). This occurs after a petition for divorce has been filed but before the divorce trial or stipulated judgment has been issued. The party seeking support asks the court through a formal, written request for orders of support.

How Is Temporary Support Calculated?

The court will make a determination of the amount of support, if any, pursuant to a mathematical formula found in the Family Code. The goal of temporary spousal support is to maintain the marital living conditions as they were prior to the filing, but it is rarely possible to maintain the living conditions as they were. The court will take into consideration the income of the parties and, usually using a software program, determine the support amount.

In Los Angeles and Orange County, the court will consider gross income and tax implications and will follow what is called the Santa Clara guideline. This is 40% of the spousal support payer’s net monthly income reduced by 50% of the spousal support receiver’s net monthly income. Since temporary spousal support is aimed at allocating the family income to maintain the parties’ pre-separation living conditions (or get as close to it as possible), the court often does not consider the earning capacity of a non-working spouse.

What Is the Difference Between Temporary and Long-Term Spousal Support? How is Long-Term Support Calculated?

There is an important difference between how a court determines temporary support and how it determines long-term support. Support ordered after a trial is properly described as long-term support. It is often referred to incorrectly as permanent support. Long-term support may be awarded by the court after it considers the 14 factors set forth in Family Code Section 4320. The purpose of long-term support is not to maintain the status quo but to provide financial assistance based on the marital standard of living if there is a disparity between the parties.

The amount of temporary support is calculated using a formula based on the parties income and influenced by whether there is also a child support order. In contrast the court has discretion — in fact, the court must exercise discretion — in awarding long-term support after a divorce. When the parties agree to a support amount and there is no trial on the issue, there’s no problem. When there is a trial on the issue of long-term support, effective divorce attorneys can argue for more or less support depending on whom they represent.

So how long should long-term spousal support last? Ideally, support ends at some point. The goal is for each spouse to eventually support themselves. This goal is not always realistic.  The earning capacity of the supported spouse is considered by the court and in some cases a vocational exam to assess the supported party’s marketable skills and opportunities may be an important factor. In marriages of 10 years or longer, the court often maintains jurisdiction to modify support indefinitely.

Can the amount of spousal support be changed?

Whether long term support can be modified depends upon the wording of the divorce judgment. The parties may agree that no modifications can be made or they may agree that the court retains jurisdiction to change the long term spousal support amount.

Temporary spousal support (the support ordered while the divorce is ongoing) can be changed if there is a significant change of circumstances. The most common reason for a change is an increase or decrease in the income of either the paying party or the receiving party.

The amount of support is not changed automatically whether temporary or long term spousal support. The party who desires a change in temporary support must file a motion and request an order of the court changing the support.

It’s generally better to resolve family law matters collaboratively. However, if you anticipate a dispute over support or any other matter that will require a contested hearing or a trial, obtain a divorce attorney that has the experience and skills to ensure that your interests are properly represented. Whether you are likely to be the payor or the payee, experienced representation can mean a world of difference to the outcome.