Spousal support, also known as alimony, is a payment made from one spouse to the other after a divorce in California. Determining the amount and duration of spousal support can be complicated, as many factors are considered by California courts when making alimony calculations.
This article will provide an in-depth explanation of how alimony is calculated in California. We will cover the different types of spousal support, the factors courts consider, formulas used, how payments are made, and duration, and provide answers to frequently asked questions.
Types of Spousal Support in California
There are generally three different types of spousal support in California:
Temporary Spousal Support
Temporary spousal support is paid while a divorce is pending before final judgment. This short-term support helps meet the reasonable needs of the spouse in need, allowing them to maintain the marital standard of living.
Temporary support considers the same factors as long-term support but focuses on immediate needs. Payments usually last several months to a year.
Permanent Spousal Support
Permanent spousal support is paid on a long-term basis after divorce. It is based on the marital standard of living and is designed to provide financial assistance to the lower-earning spouse until they becomes self-supporting.
Courts won’t award permanent spousal support in marriages under 10 years unless special circumstances apply. The duration depends on factors like the length of marriage and the age of the supported spouse.
Reimbursement Spousal Support
Reimbursement support repays one spouse’s financial contributions that supported the other spouse’s education or training during marriage.
For example, if one spouse worked to pay for the other’s college degree or vocational training, they may be awarded reimbursement support if they divorce before realizing the benefits of the degree.
Factors Considered in Spousal Support Calculations
California law sets out certain factors that influence spousal support determinations:
- Length of marriage – Longer marriages may yield more support. Marriages under 10 years usually get support for half the marriage length.
- Ability to pay – Based on earning capacity, assets, and ability to earn. High earners will pay more.
- Needs – Reasonable needs of each spouse, considering marital standard of living.
- Tax effects – Calculations account for tax deduction benefits for the payer.
- Age and health – Age and any health issues that affect the ability to work and earn.
- Child custody – Custody arrangements and time spent caring for children.
- Ability to self-support – Education, skills, and time out of the workforce affect earning capacity.
- Domestic violence – Abuse may impair the ability to gain employment and self-support.
- Balance of hardships – Weighs the needs of both spouses and who would suffer more without support.
Formulas Used to Calculate Alimony
While spousal support determinations are discretionary, California courts often use formulas as guidelines when determining amounts and duration.
Temporary spousal support usually uses the following formula:
- Calculate 40% of the net income of the payor spouse minus 50% of the net income of the recipient spouse.
Payor net monthly income: $5,000 Recipient net monthly income: $2,000
40% of payor income: $2,000 50% of recipient income: $1,000
Support amount: $2,000 – $1,000 = $1,000 per month
This provides income equalization during the divorce process.
For permanent support, two common formulas used are:
1. Santa Clara formula
This assesses 30% – 50% of the net income differential, based on the length of the marriage:
- 10+ year marriage: 35% of difference
- 15+ year marriage: 40% of difference
- 20+ year marriage: 45% of difference
- 25+ year marriage: 50% of difference
For example, if one spouse earns $8,000 per month and the other earns $3,000 after a 20-year marriage:
Higher earning spouse’s net income: $8,000 Lower earning spouse’s net income: $3,000 Income differential: $5,000
45% of $5,000 is a $2,250 per month support payment
2. Marin formula
This assesses 20% – 30% of combined gross incomes based on marriage length:
- Less than 10 years: 20% of combined gross
- 10-15 years: 24% of combined gross
- 15-20 years: 28% of combined gross
- Over 20 years: 30% of combined gross
If combined gross monthly incomes are $12,000 after 18 years of marriage:
24% of $12,000 = $2,880 monthly spousal support
These formulas provide estimates, but courts will adjust amounts based on individual case factors.
Payment, Duration, and Modification of Spousal Support
Here are some key points about spousal support payments:
- Payments are usually made monthly through wage garnishments or directly to the receiving spouse.
- Support generally lasts for half the length of marriages under 10 years. For longer marriages, support continues until the supported spouse remarries or either spouse dies.
- Supported spouses have an obligation to become self-supporting within a reasonable period of time.
- Support orders are modifiable based on changes in circumstances, such as increased earnings abilities.
- Payments usually end at retirement, as courts consider Social Security benefits and retirement accounts.
- Support generally terminates upon the death of either spouse or the remarriage of the supported spouse.
Frequently Asked Questions
How is spousal support taxed?
The spouse receiving payments must claim the alimony as taxable income. The paying spouse can deduct payments from their taxable income.
Can I get alimony and child support?
Yes, they are separate. Child support is calculated based on child custody arrangements and timeshare. Alimony is based on spousal needs and the ability to be self-supporting.
How do I estimate the support amount I will get?
There are alimony calculators online you can use to estimate potential amounts, but the court has discretion on the final order based on your case specifics. Consulting with an attorney will yield a more accurate estimate.
What if my ex isn’t paying spousal support as ordered?
You can file a motion for enforcement with the court. They can issue earnings withholding orders, asset seizures, or other remedies to ensure compliance. Contempt charges are possible for willful non-payment.
Can I modify my spousal support order later?
Yes, if there is a material change in circumstances, either party can request the family court to modify the amount or duration. This requires filing a petition and showing the change warrants adjustment.
Additional Questions About Spousal Support
Spousal support, sometimes referred to as alimony or maintenance, is paid by the supporting party to the supported spouse after a divorce. Here are some additional common questions about spousal support awards:
How much spousal support will I get?
The amount of spousal support is discretionary and determined on a case-by-case basis. The court will examine the supporting party’s earning capacity, assets, and ability to pay, as well as the needs of the supported spouse. Length of marriage, age, health, and other factors are considered. Use online calculators or consult an attorney to estimate potential amounts.
How are spousal support payments made?
The court order will specify payment terms, which are usually made monthly by wage garnishment or directly to the supported spouse. Taxes and insurance may also be ordered as additional support.
What if there is domestic violence involved?
Evidence of domestic violence can impact support orders. The abuse may impair the victim’s ability to gain employment and be self-supporting. Courts can order restraining orders and consider the effect of abuse on the supported party.
Is spousal support connected to child support?
They are separate calculations but may impact each other. The presence of minor children can affect timeshare arrangements, need levels, and living expenses used in support determinations. Custody can also influence the ability to earn income.
Is spousal support considered separate property?
Yes, spousal support payments after separation are the recipient’s separate property. However, any temporary support paid before the final divorce is considered community property.
Calculating spousal support in California involves examining multiple factors to determine fair amounts and duration of payments after divorce. While each case is different, courts tend to follow common formulas and guidelines based on the length of marriage, income, and other circumstances. Understanding the process and getting legal guidance can help lead to satisfactory spousal support outcomes.