How Courts Determine Spousal Support in California


If you’re considering filing for divorce or are currently in the middle of a divorce, you might be wondering if you are entitled to spousal support or if you will have to pay support to your ex-spouse. Many spouses find themselves concerned about the financial strain during and after a divorce and are worried about gaining spousal support. Essentially the main purpose of spousal support is to allow the transition from a two-income household into a single-income household easier. This is usually done by initiating a spousal support payment from the higher income earner to the lower-income earner.

In some instances, couples who decide to divorce can settle challenging aspects like child support, property division, child custody, and spousal support without court intervention. However, divorce cases can become complicated, which results in the case making its way to court so the judge can rule on unresolved issues. During the divorce process, the California family court will try to determine the correct amount of spousal support so that both parties can be financially stable.

What Types of Spousal Support Exist In California?

As is the case in most American states, California law allows different types of spousal support. We will briefly look at the three types to give you an indication of what to expect. In addition to these three types, California also recognizes and supports a unique form of spousal support known as reimbursement support.

  • Temporary spousal support: This type of support is granted to the lower-earning spouse so that they can cover day to day living expenses during the divorce. With the temporary spousal support, the amount paid is calculated by using the California child support guidelines.
  • Rehabilitative Spousal Support: The most common type of spousal support granted in California is rehabilitative support. This support is granted to lower-income earners and those who did not work and instead looked after the children during the marriage. The primary goal of rehabilitative support is to give the party who did not work a chance to attain skills or earn an education to care for themselves and become self-supporting.
  • Permanent Spousal Support: In California, permanent spousal support is often reserved for divorce cases where the spouse cannot work due to age or illness. Additionally, the marriage usually would have had to last more than ten years for permanent spousal support to be considered by the courts.

How to Get a Spousal Support Order

If you wish to seek a court order for spousal support, there will need to first be some type of a court case. You can specifically request a judge grant you spousal support during the court case if you are going through a divorce, legal separation, domestic violence dispute, or an annulment.

How Do California Courts Determine Spousal Support?

Now that we know more about the different types of spousal support, how to initiate it, and if the amounts can be reduced or terminated, we can look at how the courts determine spousal support. Contrary to popular belief, spousal support is gender-neutral, which means that regardless of gender, either spouse can request financial support from the other.

Importantly you should note that if you cannot prove that you require the support and that your spouse can provide it, it’s likely the court will deny your request. When determining the physical amount payable to the spouse seeking support, the courts will base their ruling differently depending on the type of spousal support you are seeking.

If you want temporary support, the courts will gather all relevant financial information from both spouses and establish an amount to pay based on expenses, debts, income, and various assets.  On a temporary basis support is usually calculated by a formula using the computer program Xspouse or DissoMaster.  Should you require one of the other types of spousal support that California grants, the courts will base their ruling on several factors, including but not limited to:

  • How long the marriage lasted.
  • The needs of each spouse as determined by the marital standard of living.
  • The earning capacity of each spouse.
  • What the tax consequences will be to each part after the divorce.
  • How significantly a spouse supported the other in terms of attaining an educational qualification.
  • The respective ages and health statuses of each spouse.

It is important to have an attorney representing you who can present evidence and arguments in your favor that convince the judge that you are qualified to receive support.

How Is Spousal Support Paid?

Two options are available. You can either receive periodic payments or a lump sum payout. If you leave the decision to the courts, they will almost always opt for monthly payments, whereas if you are settling out of court, you can choose a lump sum consisting of money and other assets such as shared bank accounts and property.

Can Spousal Support Amounts Be Changed?

Ultimately, spousal support can be changed or terminated if it can be determined that it is no longer needed or that a reduced amount is appropriate due to changed circumstances. The court could evaluate if a spouse is making enough effort to become self-sustaining, and if they are not, then the court can terminate the spousal support. Additionally, if the spouse who is required to pay the support becomes ill or unfit to make payments, then the court can choose to modify the amount payable or terminate the support.

Divorces are often unpleasant, and it can be challenging to comprehend the various laws surrounding spousal support and settlements. It’s vital that you consider using an experienced divorce lawyer’s services, as they can help you learn more about which type of support you should seek. They can also discuss how to initiate a court case and give you a more in-depth understanding of how California courts determine spousal support.