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How is California Spousal Support Calculated

Unlike child support, only vague guidelines are established in California for spousal support. Unfortunately, broad latitude is administered by judges with varying attitudes. Different results appear in cases with similar factual situations. Generally speaking, spousal support is based on the reasonable needs of the wife as they relate to the husband's ability to pay. The factors most relevant are as follows:

  • A comparison of the financial position of each of the parties before and after the dissolution.
  • Each spouse's ability to work, and his or her potential earnings considered in light of age, training and likelihood of employment.
  • The reasonable needs of each spouse due him or her in the style of life to which he or she is accustomed, considering his or her age and health, subject to the other spouse's ability to pay.
  • The nature of the assets awarded to each spouse with their actual and reasonable income potential.
  • Whether the party has made reasonable efforts to find suitable work consistent with his or her age, ability and health, and whether the party has made a genuine and conscientious effort to establish at least partial self-support.
  • The income tax consequences of spousal support to both the paying and receiving spouse.
  • The relative financial ability of a spouse to pay, based on his or her financial condition, resources, ability to earn and actual earnings with due consideration given to income tax premiums and retirement contributions.
  • Other valid support obligations of either spouse to his or her lawful dependents.
  • The duration of the marriage. In long term marriages of say 20 years, the court has a tendency to equalize the incomes of the parties.

Temporary spousal support is usually based solely on the respective earnings of the parties and their special needs at the moment. Although this may appear to unfairly benefit the spouse who was unemployed at the date of separation; Judges are more willing to order written proof of job contacts for the unemployed spouse if they appear to be a viable candidate for work. Also, the courts are tending to order professional assessments of a party's ability if they have not worked for substantial period of time.


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California divorce laws recognize that both spouses make valuable contributions to any marriage regardless of their employment. Property is labeled either "community property" or "separate property." Community property is all property, in or out of the state, that either spouse acquired during the marriage. Each spouse owns one-half of all community property. It does not matter if only one spouse worked outside of the home during the marriage or if this property is in only one spouse's name.
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