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Spousal support is the term used for alimony in California. Alimony is money that one spouse pays to the other to help support them until they can support themselves at the standard of living they had during the marriage.

Alimony depends on a number of factors; during the divorce proceedings (before a judgment of divorce is entered), courts will normally order spousal support based on a formula adopted by the county (called “temporary” or ‘pendente lite” spousal support). The amount is determined by child support calculation programs which have a spousal support component. The actual amount of support is based on both parties’ earnings (or sometimes imputed earnings if one party is not working to his or her ability); some deductions such as health insurance, mandatory retirement, tax deductions, and other guideline factors are considered.

Once the judgment of divorce is entered, “long term” or “permanent spousal support” needs to be determined.

Alimony can be ordered (or agreed to by the parties) which can vary in duration depending on the length of marriage or agreement reached by the parties.  A short term spousal support would last ½ the length of the marriage when the marriage is less than 10 years while a long term spousal support lasts until the receiving spouse can support themselves in the standard of living experienced during marriage. There are thirteen specific factors specified in Family Code 4320 of the California Family Law to determine the amount of spousal support.

Family code 4320 Factors includes the following:

  1. The sufficiency of maintaining a standard of living similar to the one established in marriage while taking into account the following:
    1. The marketable skills of the supported party; including the current job market and time/cost to acquire the required education or training associated with these skills.
    2. The extent to which the supported party’s present or future earning capacity is impaired by periods of unemployment that were incurred during the marriage for domestic duties.
  2. The supported party’s contribution to the education or training of the supporting party.
  3. The ability of the supporting party to pay alimony.
  4. The needs of each party based on the marital standard of living.
  5. The obligations and assets of both parties; including separate property
  6. The duration of the marriage
  7. The ability of the supported party to work without unduly interfering with the interests of dependent children.
  8. The age and health of the parties
  9. Documented history of Domestic violence
  10.  The immediate and specific tax consequences to each party
  11. The balance of the hardships to each party
  12. The goal of the supported party to be self supporting in a reasonable amount of time
  13. The criminal conviction of an abusive spouse
  14. Any other factors the court deems equitable.

The courts must replace the temporary spousal support formula with the above mentioned Family Code 4320 Factors when determining long term alimony. With the ambiguity in the 14th clause, spousal support determination can quickly turn into a costly endeavor in the courts.

The parties, both when negotiating with attorneys or among themselves, often use the formula support calculator to help them reach an agreement with regards to spousal support. If the parties mutually agree to a spousal support amount on their own that is fair and equitable, the court will allow their agreement to be made as part of the divorce judgment and will not second guess the parties.

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