What Is Spousal Support?
When a couple legally separates or divorces, the court may order one spouse or domestic partner to pay the other a certain amount of support money each month. This is called “spousal support” for married couples and “partner support” in domestic partnerships. It is sometimes also called “alimony.”
How Spousal Support Starts
In order for spousal or partner support to be legally established and officially start, there must be a court case. A spouse or domestic partner can ask the judge to make a spousal or partner support order as part of one of these types of cases:
- Divorce, legal separation, or annulment; or
- A domestic violence restraining order.
When Spousal Support Is Paid
You can ask for spousal or partner support to be paid while your case is ongoing. This is called a “temporary spousal support order” or a “temporary partner support order.” Support can also be ordered once the divorce or legal separation becomes final, as part of the final divorce, or separation judgment. When support is ordered upon the case becoming final, it is called “permanent (or long-term) spousal or partner support.”
Calculating Spousal Support
The judge will not use a formula to figure out how much spousal or partner support to order at the end of your case. When the judge makes his or her final spousal or partner support order, the judge must consider the factors in California Family Code section 4320.
These factors include:
- The length of the marriage or domestic partnership;
- What each person needs based on the standard of living they had during the marriage or domestic partnership;
- What each person pays or can pay (including earnings and earning capacity) to keep the standard of living they had during the marriage or domestic partnership;
- Whether having a job would make it too hard to take care of the children;
- The age and health of both people;
- Debts and property;
- Whether one spouse or domestic partner helped the other get an education, training, career, or professional license;
- Whether there was domestic violence in the marriage or domestic partnership;
- Whether one spouse’s or domestic partner’s career was affected by unemployment or by taking care of the children or home; and
- The tax impact of spousal support. (Note: federal and state tax laws have not been changed to recognize domestic partnerships.)
The spousal or partner support order then becomes part of your final divorce or legal separation judgment.
Effect Of Falling Behind On Spousal Support
Once a court orders one spouse or partner to pay support to the other, it becomes a court order that must be followed until the court changes or ends it, or, if the support order has an end date, until then. If you have to pay spousal or partner support and fall behind on your payments, you must pay 10% interest per year on the balance due. Interest charges are added by law, and the judge cannot stop them.
If you owe arrears (past-due spousal or partner support), it is possible that your court order, or wage assignment (garnishment) if there is one, will include an amount over the monthly spousal or partner support. This amount goes toward paying off your arrears, and it is often called a “liquidation amount.” But even if you are paying off your arrears in installments, interest continues to be added to your balance.
Not paying the spousal or partner support the court ordered you to pay can have very serious consequences. If the court finds that you have the ability to pay support but are willfully not paying it, the court can decide that you are “in contempt of court.” Being in contempt of court can be very serious because you can be sent to jail. This enforcement tool is generally used only when all others have failed.
If you are the spouse or partner getting support, you may be able to get help collecting on your support order. If the local child support agency (LCSA) is currently helping you collect (enforce) a child support order for a child you have with your spouse or domestic partner, the LCSA can help you collect (enforce) the spousal/partner support order along with the child support order. If the LCSA has not helped you yet but you do have a child support order as well as a spousal/partner support order, you can ask them to open an enforcement case on your behalf and help you collect both types of support.
Changing the Spousal Support Court Order
Depending on the situation, either spouse or domestic partner might need to change the amount of spousal or partner support that is paid. To ask for a change in the support amount, there needs to be a “change in circumstances.” This means something significant has changed since the spousal or partner support order was made.
Maybe the spouse or partner that was getting support no longer needs it, or the person paying support has had a significant drop in income and can no longer afford the amount of support. Sometimes, the spouse/partner getting support is not making a good faith effort to become self-supporting, so the paying spouse/partner can ask the court to end or change the support order based on this.
Why Do I Need An Attorney For Spousal Support Issues?
Spousal support issues can be very complex and burdensome. However the Hunt Law Group is fully prepared to deal with your spousal support issues and we are dedicated to enforcing your rights under the laws of the California Family Code.