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Evaluating Spousal Support

Unlike child support, only vague guidelines are established in California for evaluating the amount of spousal support. Unfortunately, broad latitude is given 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, in order to maintain the Marital Standard of Living, established during the marriage. Major factors commonly employed to determine the appropriate amount of support are as follows:

  • A comparison of the financial positions 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 extent of impairment to the supported spouse by long periods of devotion to domestic to duties.
  • The extent the supported spouse contributed to the education or career position of the supporting spouse.
  • 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, considering all sources of income and assets including separate property.
  • Other valid support obligations of either spouse to his or her lawful dependents.
  • The age and health of the parties.
  • 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 after adjustments are made for taxes.

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 the supported spouse appears to be a viable candidate for work.

The courts tend to order professional assessments of a parties' ability if they have not worked for a substantial period of time. The law endorses the goal that the supported spouse should be self supporting within a reasonable period. In a marriage of short duration, of less than about 10 years this is determined to be half the length of the marriage.

In long term marriages, a significant number of older judges seem to mysteriously arrive at something close to 40% of husbands gross income, yet other judges will equalize the income, exactly and many judges seem to have a completely unpredictable pattern to their awards.

The good news for husbands is that no matter how much support is ordered, it goes to zero on the wife's remarriage and is ripe for modification on his retirement or any other change in circumstances.

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The California court may award alimony/spousal support to either spouse in any amount for any period of time that it deems just and reasonable based on the standard of living during the marriage. The amount of alimony/spousal support and the duration will vary significantly from case-to-case and is often dependent upon the division of property.
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