Spousal Support

“Financial assistance provided by the higher earning spouse to the lower earning spouse”

Spousal support, also called alimony, is financial assistance provided by the higher earning spouse to the lower earing spouse to assist the lower earning spouse until the spouse becomes self supporting. In marriages less than ten years duration, there is a rebuttable presumption that the correct duration for support is one-half the length of the marriage. This presumption does not apply in marriages longer than ten years, which are considered “long term” marriages. In either case, the duty of the higher earing spouse to provide support to the lower earning spouse is balanced by the requirement that the lower earning spouse must make good faith efforts to become self supporting, and the failure of the supported spouse to do so can be one of the factors the court considers when terminating support.

There are basically two types of spousal support

Temporary spousal support
Permanent spousal support

Temporary spousal support is typically established at the beginning of the dissolution proceedings, and is based upon a “Needs and Ability to Pay” analysis. Temporary support is designed to maintain the “Status Quo” and provide the parties an opportunity to stabilize their finances while the divorce proceedings are pending. Although application of the statewide guideline for spousal support is not mandatory in San Diego County, most courts take the guideline spousal support recommendations into consideration when fashioning temporary support orders.

Permanent spousal support awards are usually established towards the conclusion of the proceedings, and take into consideration numerous factors, such as age, health, earning capacity, contributions toward the other spouse’s education and marketable skills, child rearing and domestic duties. The basic starting point for any spousal support order is the standard of living established during the marriage. The courts must consider each of the factors enumerated in Family Code section 4320, with the court exercising it’s discretion as to how much weight to give each of the factors.

It is common for parties to reach an informal agreement between themselves to modify the support, only to find that this agreement is disputed years later, which can result in extremely large support arrears. It is important to document any changes to the order, and the parties should seek legal advice before agreeing to any informal changes to the existing support orders.

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