The payments made from one spouse to the other for that spouse’s financial needs is called Spousal Support (often referred to as Alimony). The amount and duration of spousal support payments can be negotiated and agreed upon or the court can be asked to make these determinations. Spousal support payments are independent of child support and different rules apply in determining the amount of support as well as for how long the payments will continue.
An award of spousal support is generally based on a disparity of income between the parties, in which one party is determined to have a need for spousal support and the other party is determined to have an ability to pay some amount of spousal support. At the outset of a case the court is often asked, or the parties agree to, an initial award of spousal support. These awards are considered temporary in nature, designed to give the parties some financial structure while the case is proceeding through the court process to a conclusion. Temporary or pre-judgment spousal support is set using a predetermined formula and is largely based upon the parties’ current income. At the conclusion of the case, a determination of post-judgment spousal support may be agreed on by the parties, or it can be set by the court. In setting post-judgment spousal support the court is required to take into consideration a number of factors relating to the circumstances of the parties, beyond their current income. These factors include the standard of living of the parties during the marriage; the length of the marriage; the age of each party; the earning capacity of each party; whether either party’s earning capacity is limited due to periods of unemployment during the marriage which enabled that spouse to devote time to household responsibilities. The complete list of these factors can be found in Family Code section 4320.
There are somewhat complex rules regarding the effect spousal support payments have on the income taxes of both spouses. Not following these rules can have significant and costly consequences. It is recommended that before making any decisions regarding spousal support you meet with an experienced family law attorney to learn about your options to enable you to make informed decisions.
Having the assistance of an experienced family law attorney will be important in helping you determine the extent of your entitlement to spousal support as well as to determine your expected obligation to pay spousal support.