How is Spousal Support Calculated?

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Gentry Law Group

Los Angeles, CA

During a divorce if there is a difference in the income of spouses, a spouse who does not work or makes less may seek temporary support payments (commonly referred to as alimony). This occurs after a petition for divorce has been filed but before the divorce trial or stipulated judgment has been issued. The party seeking support asks the court through a formal, written request for orders of support.


The court will make a determination of the amount of support, if any, pursuant to a mathematical formula found in the Family Code. The goal of temporary spousal support is to maintain the marital living conditions as they were prior to the filing, but it is rarely possible to maintain the living conditions as they were. The court will take into consideration the income of the parties and, usually using a software program, determine the support amount.

In Los Angeles and Orange County, the court will consider gross income and will follow what is called the Santa Clara guideline. There are several important factors in addition to the parties’ incomes including who is paying for the family health insurance and iff the parties have minor children, then child support will also be considered. Generally speaking the court’s goal is that 40% of the spousal support payer’s net monthly income reduced by 50% of the spousal support receiver’s net monthl income be the support amount. Both divorce lawyers and the courts use computer program to determine the precise support amount. The program is called the Dissomaster program. Since temporary spousal support is aimed at allocating the family income to maintain the parties’ pre-separation living condition, the court often does not consider the earning capacity of a non-working spouse.


There is an important difference between how a court determines temporary support and how it determines long-term support. Support ordered after a trial is properly described as long-term support. It is often referred to incorrectly as permanent support. Long-term support may be awarded by the court after it considers the 14 factors set forth in Family Code Section 4320. The purpose of long-term support is not to maintain the status quo but to provide financial assistance based on the marital standard of living.

So how long should long-term spousal support last? Earning capacity is considered by the court and a vocational exam to assess the supporting party’s marketable skills and opportunities. In marriages of 10 years or longer, the court often maintains jurisdiction to modify support indefinitely.

The amount of temporary support is fairly formulaic. However, the court has discretion — in fact, the court must exercise discretion — in awarding long-term support after a divorce. When the parties agree to a support amount and there is no trial on the issue, there’s no problem. When there is a trial on the issue of long-term support, effective divorce attorneys can argue for more or less support depending on whom they represent.

It’s generally better to resolve family law matters collaboratively. However, if you anticipate a dispute over support or any other matter that will require a trial, ensure that your divorce attorney has the experience and skills to ensure that your interests are properly represented.

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