Whenever a dissolution or legal separation action is pending, the court can order one spouse to pay an amount necessary for support of the other spouse. In a final judgment of dissolution or legal separation, the court can also order such payments. This is called “spousal support,” or in common parlance, “alimony.”
Oftentimes, determining an appropriate spousal support amount is a two (2) stage process in California. Typically, the lower-earning spouse first seeks an award of “temporary spousal support” at the outset of a dissolution or legal separation. Frequently, this request is heard at a short hearing, and income figures are “plugged into” a guideline formula in a manner similar to child support. This yields an amount for temporary spousal support – the support that will be paid while the divorce is pending.
“Stage 2” of the spousal support process involves determining the appropriate amount and duration for the “long-term support” of the low-earning spouse. This is a much more complex analysis than the “temporary spousal support” analysis set forth above and, absent stipulation of the two parties, requires that the court conduct a trial regarding fourteen (14) broad and distinct statutory variables. Ultimately, the goal is to determine the marital standard of living, and thus to determine a support amount that allows the low-earning spouse to approximate the marital standard of living. This, however, requires that the court look into the actual income of each party, the earning capacity of each party, the assets available to each party, the debts shouldered by each party, the age and health of each party, whether a party cares for children, the duration of the marriage, domestic violence issues, tax consequences, hardships, and the goal that the low-earning spouse become self-supporting within a reasonable period of time.
This last variable impacts the duration of spousal support. Regarding this issue, people often generalize that spousal support should only be payable for one-half the length of the marriage. This, however, is a gross oversimplification of the issue. It is also completely irrelevant to marriages that have lasted longer than ten (10) years – in such instances, the court completely lacks jurisdiction to set an end date for spousal support, absent an agreement by the parties. As such, in longer marriages, the spousal support obligation can be indefinite.
Whether you are faced with a spousal support obligation, or you think you are entitled to spousal support, legal representation can be crucial in protecting and preserving your rights. Please contact our Encinitas divorce lawyers at Gower Law & Mediation today to set up a free consultation.