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Spousal Support

How is spousal support determined, and how long does it last?

Spousal support, sometimes referred to as alimony, is the obligation of one spouse in a dissolution of marriage, to pay the other spouse money to assist in their support. In most cases, it is a specific amount of money paid on a monthly basis.

Spousal support may be "temporary", meaning it is paid while a dissolution of marriage proceeding is in progress, or it may be provided for in a judgment, representing an obligation to pay a former spouse support after the marriage is terminated.

How is the amount of spousal support determined? Temporary spousal support is usually calculated based upon a formula set forth in a number of recognized computer software programs. The calculation is based primarily upon the income of each spouse and state and Federal income tax factors. Other than in cases where one spouse owns a business or is self-employed, temporary spousal support is usually predictable. In other words, with sufficient information, it is often possible to accurately determine what the court would order if it were presented with certain income information. Therefore, it is often possible to reach an agreement concerning temporary spousal support without the necessity of appearing in court.

Permanent or judgment spousal support is more complicated and judges are not permitted to merely rely upon computer software support calculations. When a judge is asked to determine permanent spousal support, the court is required to consider factors set forth in Family Code section 4320, which include the parties' standard of living during the marriage, the length of the marriage, the parties' earning capacities, the age and health of the parties, the obligations and assets of the parties, whether the supported party contributed toward the other party's education, training or career position, documented evidence of domestic violence, and income tax consequences. The court has wide discretion in determining both the amount and duration of spousal support. A marriage in excess of ten years is considered to be a long marriage, and it is less likely the court will set a termination date for judgment spousal support after a long marriage.

Is it possible to change an existing spousal support order? Unless the parties otherwise agree in writing, the court has continuing jurisdiction to modify spousal support orders, as well as the power to determine if the court's jurisdiction over spousal support should be terminated. Both the payor and the recipient of spousal support may request a modification of a spousal support order based upon a showing of "changed circumstances". For example, a payor may request a reduction of spousal support based upon the payor's loss of employment.

Post-judgment spousal support proceedings can be complicated, and it is wise to seek legal advice whether you are the payor, or the recipient.

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