While child support and temporary spousal support can be determined by inputting income and other figures into a calculator, such as a child and spousal support calculator, a court cannot base a finding of permanent spousal support on the same type of calculation. It must make an independent determination of spousal support.
A spousal support award is not mandatory.
Quite the contrary, courts have wide discretion to deny spousal support altogether or to limit it in an amount and duration that reflects the ability of both parties to provide for their own needs. The court may order a party to pay for the support of the other party an amount for a period of time that the court determines is just and reasonable based on the standard of living established during the marriage taking into consideration 14 separate factors.
The standard of living provided during marriage. The standard of living is really just a baseline measuring stick used to compare the 14 factors against. Except for very high earners, realistically, the standard of living for both parties is going to decline because it is much more expensive to maintain two household, than just one.
There is no exact guideline for determining one’s standard of living.
It has been interpreted to mean the person’s station in life enjoyed by the parties while married. Certainly one way to measure one’s standard of living or station in life is to calculate the monthly costs and expenses of the parties while married, both necessary expenses and those deemed a luxury, such as vacationing in Paris every year. This figure would be one way to put into dollars and cents the marital lifestyle.
Like other aspects of permanent spousal support, there is going to be a need for forensic accounting and expert testimony to establish a standard of living and the appropriate amount, if any, of permanent spousal support.
The 14 factors that a court must consider when determining whether to order a party to pay spousal support, can be found at Family Code § 4320. They are summarized below:
- Are the parties able to support themselves consistent with the standard of living established during the marriage, taking into account the current and future employment options of the supported spouse, if he or she receives education and training.
- The extent to which the supported party contributed to the attainment of an education, training, a career position, or a license by the supporting party.
- The ability of the supporting party to pay spousal support, taking into account the supporting party’s earning capacity, earned and unearned income, assets, and standard of living.
- The needs of each party based on the standard of living established during the marriage.
- The obligations and assets, including the separate property, of each party.
- The duration of the marriage.
- The ability of the supported party to engage in gainful employment without unduly interfering with the interests of dependent children in the custody of the party.
- The age and health of the parties.
- Documented evidence of any history of domestic violence.
- The immediate and specific tax consequences to each party.
- The balance of the hardships to each party.
- For marriages of less than 10-years, the goal is that the supported party shall be self-supporting within a reasonable period of time., which is generally one-half the length of the marriage.
- The criminal conviction of an abusive spouse shall be considered in making a reduction or elimination of a spousal support award.
- Any other factors the court determines are just and equitable.
As you can see, establishing the need for the amount of and duration of spousal support is more of an art than a science. If spousal support cannot be agreed to, it is up to your attorney to develop facts that support or refute each one of the above factors and to retain competent experts that support your position.
We can help determine the correct amount of spousal support.