California Spousal Support
The California Family Code determines the nuances and specific circumstances in which spousal support will play a role in divorce proceedings. Factors such as the duration of the marriage and the standard of living during the length of the marital union are considered when gauging the amount of spousal support.
At the time of divorce, courts may order a spouse to pay the other spouse spousal support if one party does not have the financial means to provide for their previous standard of living. Spousal support is intended to protect a spouse’s standard of living. It is usually provided to spouses who have been out of the workforce during the marriage, who worked part-time positions during the marriage, or who earn a significant amount less than their spouse. It is estimated that less than half of all divorce settlements entail spousal support as one of the end agreements made between both parties. Nevertheless, it is imperative for divorcing parties to recognize when eligibility for spousal support is applicable and the potential amount of spousal support the court may order to ensure the amount allocated is just and reasonable.
Spousal Support Eligibility
To be eligible for spousal support, there must be a “need for support". To determine this need, California courts rely on a number of factors set forth in California Family Code section 4320, which states:
“In ordering spousal support under this part, the court shall
consider all of the following circumstances:
(a) The extent to which the earning capacity of each party is sufficient to maintain the standard of living established during the marriage, taking into account all of the following:
(1) The marketable skills of the supported party; the job market for those skills; the time and expenses required for the supported party to acquire the appropriate education or training to develop those skills; and the possible need for retraining or education to acquire other, more marketable skills or employment.
(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 to permit the supported party to devote time to domestic duties.
(b) The extent to which the supported party contributed to the attainment of an education, training, a career position, or a license by the supporting party.
(c) The ability of the supporting party to pay spousal support, taking into account the supporting party's earning capacity, earned and unearned income, assets, and standard of living.
(d) The needs of each party based on the standard of living established during the marriage.
(e) The obligations and assets, including the separate property, of each party.
(f) The duration of the marriage.
(g) The ability of the supported party to engage in gainful
employment without unduly interfering with the interests of dependent children in the custody of the party.
(h) The age and health of the parties.
(i) Documented evidence of any history of domestic violence, as defined in Section 6211, between the parties, including, but not limited to, consideration of emotional distress resulting from domestic violence perpetrated against the supported party by the supporting party, and consideration of any history of violence against the supporting party by the supported party.
(j) The immediate and specific tax consequences to each party.
(k) The balance of the hardships to each party.
(l) The goal that the supported party shall be self-supporting within a reasonable period of time. Except in the case of a marriage of long duration as described in Section 4336, a "reasonable period of time" for purposes of this section generally shall be one-half the length of the marriage. However, nothing in this section is intended
to limit the court's discretion to order support for a greater or
lesser length of time, based on any of the other factors listed in this section, Section 4336, and the circumstances of the parties.
(m) The criminal conviction of an abusive spouse shall be
considered in making a reduction or elimination of a spousal support award in accordance with Section 4325.
(n) Any other factors the court determines are just and equitable."
The court has full discretion when calculating the exact amount of support that will be ordered.
It is important to note that spousal support can be requested by either a husband or wife. It is a common misconception -- that is rooted in how spousal support was ordered by the courts in the past -- which involves the notion that only women who stay at home and do not work are the only party that is eligible to request spousal support. This notion no longer holds true and it is important to examine your situation meticulously before deciding to collect spousal support.
Additionally, the court may also issue support during litigation, also known as “pendent lite" support or relief pending litigation. Obtaining a pendente lite order is important because the order allows the parties to pay their bills and maintain financial equilibrium while the case is pending. Pendente lite orders also prevent one party from asserting a financial advantage over another party who may have lesser means and fewer financial resources at her disposal when the litigation commences. With this in mind, there must be a need for this relief to maintain said equilibrium, as well as the means available for the party providing support to do so.