Factors Considered When Ordering Permanent Spousal Support in California
Spousal support, also known as alimony, is often times a crucial element in divorce proceedings and under the California Family Code, there is a duty to support a spouse. There are two different kinds of spousal support: Temporary Spousal Support is an amount that is awarded by the court while the divorce is pending so that the parties can maintain the living conditions that they were accustomed to during the marriage until the divorce is finalized. You can read more about Temporary Spousal Support here. Permanent Spousal Support differs from temporary spousal support because permanent support is intended to make an equitable apportionment between the parties.
In California, permanent spousal support is determined by a variety of factors. These factors are set forth in California Family Code sections 4320(a)-(n) and each of them has to be considered by the court when determining the amount of spousal support to be awarded. In this post, we will go through each of the factors.
(a) “The extent to which the earning capacity of each party is sufficient to maintain the standard of living established during the marriage . . .”
With this subsection the court will consider the standard of living that was established during the marriage and whether each party has the ability to maintain that standard of living after the divorce. This factor is based on the assumption that both parties should be able to maintain a similar lifestyle after the divorce, to the extent that their income and resources allow.
They also consider the supported party's current skills and whether those skills are marketable in the job market. If the supported party needs additional education or training to develop marketable skills, the court may consider this in determining spousal support. Finally, under this subsection, the court will consider whether the supported party's earning capacity has been impaired by taking time off from work to care for children or to perform other domestic duties. This factor recognizes that the supported party may have made sacrifices during the marriage that impacted their earning potential.
(b) “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.”
Under this subsection the court will consider the contributions of the supported party to the education, training, or career of the supporting party. If the supported party contributed to the supporting party's attainment of an education, training, career position, or license, this may be considered in determining spousal support.
(c) “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.”
Here, the court will consider the supporting party's ability to pay spousal support. This factor takes into account the supporting party's earning capacity, income, assets, and standard of living.
(d) “The needs of each party based on the standard of living established during the marriage, taking into account the factors set forth in Section 4320(a).”
The court will consider the needs of each party based on the standard of living established during the marriage. This factor takes into account the factors set forth in Section 4320(a).
(e) “The obligations and assets, including the separate property, of each party.”
The court will consider the obligations and assets of each party, including separate property. This factor takes into account each party's financial situation, including any debts or obligations they may have.
(f) “The duration of the marriage.”
The court will consider the duration of the marriage. This factor takes into account the length of time the parties were married and the level of financial interdependence between them.
(g) “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.”
This factor takes into account the supported party's ability to work and earn an income, but also recognizes that they may have childcare responsibilities that could make it difficult for them to work full-time. The court will consider the best interests of any dependent children in the custody of the supported party, and will not require the supported party to work in a manner that would harm or negatively impact those children.
(h) “The age and health of the parties.”
The age and health of the parties can be important factors in determining spousal support because they may impact the ability of each party to earn an income or become self-supporting. For example, if one party is older and has health issues that make it difficult for them to work or earn an income, they may require more support from their former spouse.
Conversely, if one party is younger and in good health, they may be expected to become self-supporting more quickly, and may not require as much support from their former spouse.
(i) “Documented evidence of any history of domestic violence, as defined in Section 6211, between the parties, including, but not limited to, consideration of emotional distress resulting from domestic violence perpetrated against the supported party by the supporting party, and consideration of any history of violence against the supporting party by the supported party.”
The court will consider the emotional distress resulting from any domestic violence perpetrated against the supported party by the supporting party. This means that the court will take into account the mental and emotional impact that the domestic violence has had on the supported party.
In addition, the court will also consider any history of violence against the supporting party by the supported party. This means that the court will take into account any instances of domestic violence that may have been perpetrated by the supported party against the supporting party.
Overall, the court takes the issue of domestic violence very seriously and will make sure to consider it when making a decision on spousal support. If there is a history of domestic violence between the parties, it may impact the amount of support awarded.
(j) “The immediate and specific tax consequences to each party”
When determining spousal support, the court must consider the tax consequences that each party will face as a result of the support order. This means that the court will look at how much each party will owe in taxes as a result of the support payments, and will take that into account when determining the appropriate amount of support.
For example, spousal support payments are generally taxable income to the recipient and tax-deductible to the payor. This means that the recipient will have to pay taxes on the support they receive, while the payor may be able to deduct the support payments from their taxable income.
The court will also consider other tax consequences that may be specific to each party's situation, such as capital gains taxes or property taxes.
(k) “The balance of the hardships to each party”
This means that the court will weigh the financial impact of the support payments on both parties and determine how that will affect each party's ability to maintain a reasonable standard of living.
The court will consider factors such as the income and earning capacity of each party, as well as their expenses and other financial obligations. The court will also take into account any special circumstances, such as a disability or a need to provide care for a child or other family member.
For example, if one party has a much lower income and is struggling to meet their basic needs, the court may order a higher amount of spousal support to balance out the hardships between the parties. On the other hand, if one party is facing financial difficulties due to other obligations, such as child support or medical expenses, the court may take that into account when determining the appropriate amount of spousal support.
(l) “The goal that the supported party shall be self-supporting within a reasonable period of time. Except in the case of a marriage of long duration as described in Section 4336, a "reasonable period of time" for purposes of this section generally shall be one-half the length of the marriage. However, nothing in this section is intended to limit the court's discretion to order support for a greater or lesser length of time, based on any of the other factors listed in this section, Section 4336, and the circumstances of the parties.”
The law recognizes that spousal support is designed to help the supported party get back on their feet and become self-supporting. This means that the court will consider the supported party's ability to find gainful employment or other means of support, and will set a goal of self-sufficiency within a reasonable period of time.
In general, the "reasonable period of time" for spousal support is considered to be one-half the length of the marriage, except in cases of long-term marriages. For example, if a couple was married for 10 years, the goal would be for the supported party to become self-supporting within 5 years.
However, the court has discretion to order support for a longer or shorter period of time, based on the other factors listed in section 4320, section 4336, and the circumstances of the parties. This means that if there are extenuating circumstances, such as a disability or a need to care for children, the court may order support for a longer period of time.
(m) “The criminal conviction of an abusive spouse shall be considered in making a reduction or elimination of a spousal support award in accordance with Section 4325.”
Section 4325 provides that if a spouse has been convicted of domestic violence against the other spouse within the past five years, the court must consider that conviction when making a determination on spousal support. The court may reduce or eliminate the spousal support award based on the severity of the domestic violence, the duration of the marriage, and the financial resources and needs of both parties.
This means that if the supporting spouse has been convicted of domestic violence against the supported spouse, the court may reduce or eliminate the spousal support award to reflect the impact of the abuse on the supported spouse. The goal is to ensure that the supporting spouse is not able to continue to financially benefit from their abusive behavior.
(n) “Any other factors the court determines are just and equitable.”
California Family Code section 4320(n) is a catch-all provision that allows the court to consider any other factors that it determines are just and equitable when making a determination on spousal support or alimony.
This means that the court has discretion to consider any other relevant factors that are not specifically listed in section 4320, but that are deemed important for the determination of spousal support in a particular case.
For example, the court may consider the standard of living enjoyed by the parties during the marriage, or the financial needs of a disabled spouse. The court may also consider any other relevant factors that may impact the parties' ability to support themselves after the marriage.
This catch-all provision provides the court with the flexibility to consider all relevant factors in a particular case, and to arrive at a spousal support determination that is fair and just for both parties. It allows the court to take into account unique circumstances and individual situations that may not be covered by the other factors listed in section 4320.
Overall, section 4320(n) provides the court with broad discretion to consider any other factors that it deems relevant and important when making a determination on spousal support. The goal is to ensure that the support order is fair and equitable for both parties, and takes into account all relevant circumstances and factors.
California Family Code section 4320 provides a comprehensive list of factors that the court must consider when making a determination on spousal support or alimony. Overall, the factors serve to ensure that the spousal support determination takes into account all relevant factors and circumstances, resulting in a support order that is fair and just for both parties.
The attorneys at Harris & McKeown have been assisting clients in the Orange County area with their family law matters for over 10 years. If you are currently navigating the process of divorce in Orange County or its surrounding counties and would like to speak with an attorney about spousal support, you may schedule a consultation appointment online here or by calling (949) 297-6529.
THIS INFORMATION IS PROVIDED FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. EVERY CASE IS DIFFERENT AND THIS GUIDE SHOULD NOT BE CONSTRUED AS LEGAL ADVICE. THIS ARTICLE DOES NOT CREATE AN ATTORNEY CLIENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE READER AND ITS AUTHOR. IF YOU HAVE LEGAL QUESTIONS, CONSULT WITH A FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY.