How do you determine spousal support in a California divorce?

Kiana Moradi

Answered by:
Kiana Moradi

Located in San Francisco, CA
Moradi Saslaw LLP

Kiana Moradi - Family Law - Super Lawyers

Answered by: Kiana Moradi

Moradi Saslaw LLP
San Francisco, CA
Phone: 415-800-1543
Fax: 415-373-3813

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Determining spousal support (sometimes referred to as alimony) can be a stressful part of the divorce process, not to mention a contentious one. You may be concerned about how the final decision will affect your financial future. As the potential payer, you may feel the proposed amount is unfair and that the lesser-earning spouse does not deserve so much. On the other hand, if you are the recipient, you may believe you cannot realistically make ends meet unless the proposed amount is increased. 

The good news is that California courts do strive for a fair decision when issuing spousal support orders. There is no single answer for those questioning how much they will receive. The exact amount will depend on factors such as both spouses’ financial resources, the length of the marriage and the tax implications. 

How Stages Of Spousal Support Are Calculated 

You may not realize that California has both “temporary spousal support” and “post-judgment spousal support,” which are calculated differently and are paid at different points in time. 

Temporary spousal support is paid while the divorce is still in process, typically during a phase when you are living apart, but the divorce has not been finalized. At this stage, the amount of support is determined by a software formula (DissoMaster or SupportTax) that accounts for both of your incomes. It is designed to maintain the status quo of the parties, where possible, until post-divorce spousal support kicks in. 

Post-judgment spousal support begins after the divorce judgment is entered. The amount and duration of post-judgment spousal support is based on the factors set forth in Family Code Section 4320 as opposed to being based on the “status quo” as in temporary support matters. They include the following: 

  • How long the marriage lasted
  • The marital standard of living
  • How much money each party needs to make ends meet
  • The financial resources, income, property and debts of each party
  • The parties’ ages and health conditions
  • Each party’s ability to be financially self-supporting given their marketable skills, job market for those skills, and the time and expenses required for the supported party to acquire those skills
  • Contributions to each other’s education or career
  • Child care considerations if children are involved
  • Whether there has been domestic violence in the marriage
  • Tax ramifications 

The marital standard of living is usually determined by looking at the past five years of your incomes during the marriage and can serve as a cap on the spousal support amount. What does this mean on a practical level? One approach is this: Assume a couple’s combined incomes averaged $200,000 per year, and their taxes averaged $70,000 per year. The couple had $200,000-$70,000 = $130,000 to live off of each year. The marital standard of living is for each party to have $115,000 per year, or $9,583 a month each. Of course, having two households is more expensive, and often, the marital standard of living cannot be met.  

Is Spousal Support Deductible or Taxable? 

A recent law was passed changing the tax ramifications for spousal support. For judgments and orders entered before Jan. 1, 2019, spousal support is generally tax-deductible for the payer and taxable to the payee. For judgments and orders entered on or after Jan. 1, 2019, spousal support will have no tax effect. 

You Deserve A Fair Award That Supports You 

When necessary, our firm collaborates with forensic accountants, vocational experts and other specialists to determine the true amount of available income and earning ability after your divorce. The latter is particularly important because each spouse has a duty to become self-supporting, to the best of his or her abilities, within a reasonable amount of time. 

Although determining spousal support can be a complex endeavor, it is possible to obtain a fair award or negotiate an agreement that works for both people. Feel free to reach out to Moradi Saslaw LLP to learn more.

Disclaimer: The answer is intended to be for informational purposes only. It should not be relied on as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.

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