What is spousal support?
Spousal support consists of payments by one spouse to the other spouse for a certain period of time. Such payments are designed to maintain a party's standard of living that they enjoyed during marriage, taking into account a number of factors. Those factors are set forth in your state's family laws. (Example: California Family Code Section 4320).
Can I get spousal support before the final judgment of dissolution?
Yes. That is called "temporary spousal support." Temporary spousal support is different than spousal support that lasts beyond the date of divorce. For instance, temporary spousal support may be appropriate if one spouse moves out of the family home, leaving the other spouse to pay the mortgage and other bills. The "in-spouse" can ask for temporary spousal support to pay those ongoing bills. If the "out-spouse" doesn't agree to pay temporary support voluntarily, the in-spouse can request that the court make an order for such temporary spousal support that will be sufficient to temporarily pay certain bills while the divorce is pending. However, there are limits on what a person can be ordered to pay in temporary spousal support, discussed more below.
How much support will I get? ... or will I be ordered to pay?
There is no way to make an average estimate, as It depends on various factors. Each case is different. Some state courts use a computer program to calculate temporary support. The parties' income and expenses are the primary factors considered to determine "temporary" support. The calculation for "permanent" spousal support is entirely different. Permanent support is usually determined by the factors set for in the state family laws. For example, to establish "permanent" spousal support, one must first examine the couple's living expenses during marriage to ascertain the "marital standard of living." The goal of permanent spousal support is to make up for the decline in a spouse's standard of living due to the loss of the other party's contribution to that standard.
How long will I have to pay (or will I receive) support?
The rule of thumb varies state to state. In California, the duration of spousal support for marriages that lasted less than ten years will last for half the period of the marriage. Therefore, if you were married for eight years, permanent spousal support could be ordered for 4 years, including any period of time in which temporary spousal support payments were made. Yet, there are exceptions to this "rule of thumb" depending on many factors, especially considering the rule that each party shall try to become financially self-sufficient. In any case, spousal support ends with the death of either party, or the re-marriage of the supported party.
How long does a court retain jurisdiction to modify support?
The duration of spousal support is not to be confused with the duration of a court's jurisdiction to modify spousal support. Regardless of the length of time one agrees or is ordered to pay spousal support, as long as the court retains jurisdiction over the issue, it can always modify support if there is a "change of circumstances." Unless an agreement or order is clear as to a specific date certain when the court's jurisdiction over the issue of spousal support shall terminate, then the court retains its jurisdiction to modify support at a later date should circumstances change. In a marriage that lasted over 10 years (a marriage of "long duration"), the court retains jurisdiction indefinitely, unless there is a written agreement between the parties to the contrary.
Are there tax consequences of paying or receiving spousal support?
Yes. Spousal support is tax deductible to the spouse that pays it, and is taxable income to the spouse who receives it (if the support is paid pursuant to a written agreement or a court order). Hence, it's a good idea for the payor to have any agreements to pay spousal support in writing; i.e., into a written "Stipulation and Order" that can be filed with the court.
Determining temporary and/or permanent spousal support can be very complex endeavor. As such, it is often a highly litigated issue. Yet, one needs to do a sober cost-benefit analysis before engaging in a prolonged court battle over support. Sometimes it will cost more in attorney's fees than the reduction or increase in support a party seeks. If you have any questions about support or want more information, please contact an attorney to adequately protect yourself.