Divorcing spouses may agree on how much support will be paid, the length of time it will be paid, and other aspects of spousal support, sometimes called alimony. In the absence of an agreement, there are two different methods a judge will use to determine spousal support.
At the beginning of a case, when the parties are separated, but property has not been divided, temporary spousal support may be ordered. Temporary spousal support is determined by a formula. In Sonoma County the formula is roughly 40 percent of the payor’s net income after any child support is deducted, minus 50 percent of the recipient’s net income.
After property is divided, spousal support is referred to in several ways including, “permanent support” or “long term support” or “post-judgment support.” All of these terms mean roughly the same thing. To calculate long term support, the court is not allowed to use the formula that is uses to determine temporary support. Instead, the court must consider a number of factors that are listed in Family Code Section 4320. These factors are:
a. The standard of living enjoyed by the parties during their marriage;
b. The income or earning capacity of each party;
c. The marketable skills, job training or education needed for the supported spouse;
d. The extent to which the supported party’s present or future earning capacity was impaired due to periods of unemployment during the marriage;
e. The extent to which the supported party contributed to the attainment of education, training, or career of the paying party;
f. The needs of each party based on the standard of living established during the marriage;
g. The assets and obligations of each party;
h. The duration of the marriage;
i. The ability of the supported spouse to engage in gainful employment without interfering with the interests of dependent children in that spouse’s custody;
j. The age and health of the parties;
k. Any documented history of domestic violence;
l. The immediate tax consequences to each party;
m. The balance of the hardships to each party;
n. Any criminal conviction of an abusive spouse;
o. Any other facts the court determines are just and reasonable.
Because these factors are words and not a formula, there is a wide range of possible support which could be ordered, because the judge who makes the decision has lots of discretion.