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When transitioning to financial independence at the end of marriage or a domestic partnership it is often essential that a person be financially supported for a period of time. This is particularly true where one spouse devoted their time, skill and efforts to domestic duties or child rearing and lost some opportunity to obtain further education or to establish a career. At the same time, the higher earner who may become obligated for spousal support does not want to overpay, or may believe that support is altogether inappropriate.
California family law establishes an obligation to financially support a former spouse or partner for a time, the length of which depends upon a number of factors. Although sometimes referenced as alimony, it is usually termed 'spousal support' in this state. There are two types of spousal support: Temporary (or pendente lite) support and Permanent (or post-judgment) support. Temporary support may be received by one party from the other from the date an action for dissolution or legal separation is filed, and support is actually requested, to the entry of a Judgment. Once a final decree is entered the spousal support that may be ordered is paid post-judgment. For marriages lasting less than 10 years, the obligation usually does not exceed one-half the marriage. Spousal support in longer marriages is more difficult to predict.
The law recognizes that early on in the ending of a relationship the costs of separating one household into two are greater, and that a dependent spouse often needs more help while they are beginning to establish themselves. Temporary spousal support therefore tends to be higher than post-judgment support, when the assumption is made that sufficient time has likely passed that the both spouse's economic situations have stabilized.
Temporary spousal support is determined in the same manner as child support - through the use of a state-wide guideline formula. At the early stage courts do not consider either party's expenses to any great extent, but instead base the amount of support on each person's gross income. In contrast, post-judgment spousal support ignores the guideline formula and instead must be determined according to a litany of factors which is set forth in California Family Code section 4320. Chief among them is the standard of living the parties enjoyed during the marriage, but the court may consider any relevant fact or information. The amount of post-judgment support is sometimes between 20 and 35% less than the temporary award.
The law of spousal support is complex. Whether you are a payor spouse or the recipient of spousal support it is in your best interests to seek competent legal assistance. Courts determine spousal awards based upon evidence and arguments that must be packaged and presented according to substantive and procedural rules of law that non-lawyers just don't know. In fact, it takes years of experience for most lawyers to truly begin to understand much of California Family Law.
Whether you are seeking a spousal support order, resisting a request from a former spouse or partner to impose or modify support, or feel it is time to terminate the spousal support burden altogether, we have the experience and knowledge to competently assist you. Michael Spiekerman has been practicing family law almost exclusively since 1991.
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