Factors That Affect a Spousal Support Decision

Spousal support, commonly known as alimony, is a major concern in a divorce. Spouses on either side can worry. You may be concerned about how much it will be and whether you can keep up. If you need support, you’re concerned about the amount and whether it will keep you afloat.

People want direct answers before they enter the divorce process. It would be comforting to find a direct formula that shows exactly how much they will pay in spousal support. Unfortunately, California has no such calculations. When determining spousal support, the state asks itself several questions. It then makes support decisions depending on the answers to these questions.

How Long Did the Marriage Last?

Married couples are, legally, family members. In the eyes of the law, everything they do is in support of that family, whether that’s true or not. If the marriage lasted a long time, the supported spouse may be entitled to more money simply because they were in the relationship for so long. Alternatively, a short marriage could result in a smaller amount of support.

How Much Aid Did Each Partner Provide to the Marriage?

The amount of work or contribution to a partnership cannot always be measured in money. Imagine a wealthy couple where one person is a workaholic, bringing in a substantial income. The other is a stay-at-home parent, managing everything from the kids to the cars, house, pets, etc. Superficially, it seems as though the working parent supported everyone, and they should be entitled to keep most of their money.

The court, however, may disagree. It could even use this worker’s busy schedule against them. Certainly, they kept the family fed and sheltered, but the court could view this hard work as a form of neglect. Conversely, it may see the home partner as having contributed more to the overall wellness of the family. In response, it may grant this person a greater degree of support.

What Is Left Over After Property Division?

Property division and spousal support are separate processes. Division models vary from state to state. California’s model revolves around marital assets. The state considered anything either spouse purchased during the marriage a marital asset, belonging to both spouses. When dividing property, California attempts to achieve an equal, 50/50 split. This equality extends to physical property. If one person gets the home, for instance, they will owe the other money or property equal to half the home’s value.

After granting property, the court looks at what is left. Even with 50% of the communal property, one spouse could be left with little to survive. When that’s the case, they may need more support.

How Much Does Each Parent Pay in Child Support?

People often assume that child support goes to a parent. This is not so. That money is strictly for the children, and parents can be penalized if they are found spending it on themselves.

Courts typically put the needs of the children over the needs of the parents. They operate by what they believe is in the child’s best interests, and the needs of the children override the needs of the adults. After making child support rulings, the court considers how much is left over. If the child support payments are high, the spousal support payments could be low, and vice versa.

What Is the Earning Potential of Each Parent?

At best, spousal support is a means of helping the supported party gain their independence, eliminating the need for support. When making decisions, the court recognizes the receiver’s needs and the supporter’s ability to meet that need. Looking into the future is a big part of that consideration.

Let’s say that the supported spouse is currently unemployed, with no means of income. It’s easy to assume that they will need a large amount of support to get by. However, imagine they just earned their degree in a lucrative, in-demand market. This changes everything. They might not make any money now, but they stand to make very good money soon, possibly more than their spouse. This may entitle them to a much lower amount of support. The same is true for the supporter. If they stand to make or lose more money in the future, the court factors that into its payment decisions.

The court will consider several factors that affect potential earnings such as a person’s age, health, skills, the job market, and so on.

What Is the Couple’s Current Standard of Living?

Beyond simple survival, courts want to ensure that each partner maintains a comparable standard of living. They don’t want someone to suddenly plummet from the upper class to the poverty level. Courts assume that as former family members, you should part ways having on an equivalent lifestyle.

This standard, however, is often misconstrued. Sometimes, the supported spouse attempts to live lavishly off their former spouse’s money. This is not the purpose or goal of spousal support. Support is there to maintain your standard of living while you build independence. If you are the supporter, and you suspect you are being fleeced, make sure to talk to your lawyer about fighting for a reasonable support payment.

Is There Evidence of Abuse?

If the court believes that the supporting spouse was abusive during the marriage, they can order a higher support payment. This serves two purposes. On one hand, it serves to compensate the abused party for their injuries. On the other, it functions as a kind of punishment for the abuser.

Modifying Spousal Support

If you cannot keep up with your current support order, or you are not receiving enough support, you can request a modification. Keep in mind, however, that such changes are not made lightly. You must have undergone a significant life change. For example, either party may have lost their job through no fault of their own. Such changes may be cause for a modification.

These changes can apply to either spouse. For example, the supported spouse could make far more money now. In that case, the supporter can claim that there is no need to keep paying the previously determined amount.

If you are worried about spousal support, or you need help with a support modification, contact our office today. Just call (949) 565-4158 or fill out an online contact form for a consultation.