Spousal Support: Ensuring Your Standard of Living

Whether you call it alimony, maintenance or spousal support, you can expect to either receive it or pay it in a divorce situation.


Spousal support is designed to maintain the same standard of living during and after a divorce for a certain period of time that was the standard before the divorce. Very often one spouse in a marriage does not work or has a lesser salary than the second spouse. In order to maintain the standard of living for the spouse who makes less money, the second spouse must make payments for a certain period of time. These factors ae defined in the Section 4320 of the California Family Code, which we include.


Is Spousal Support available before the final judgment of dissolution:

Yes. Consider this:

  • One spouse moves out of the family home and leaves the other spouse to pay the mortgage and other bills. The spouse who stayed in the house may request temporary spousal support or support pending the litigation.

  • If the spouse who left the house does not agree to pay voluntarily, the other spouse may bring an Order to the Show Cause and request that the Court make an order.

How Much Will I Receive or Be Ordered to Pay?

It depends. The same computer program guideline used to calculate child support is also used to calculate temporary spousal support.


Many attorneys use the ‘’guideline’’ figure as the starting point for calculating permanent support, but by law the Court has to consider all the factors set forth in the Family Code Section 4320. For example:

  • Determining living expenses of each spouse during the marriage, known as ‘’Marital Standard of Living,’’ is the starting point for calculating permanent support.

  • Accordingly, if the Wife spent $5,000 per month before the separation, but after the separation, she can only earn $4,000 per month. The $1,000 difference, if all other things are equal, would be paid to the Wife by the spouse until the Wife becomes financially independent. But, this is only the starting point since the Court has to consider all other ‘’4320’’ factors. 


What are all the 4320 factors the Court has to consider in determining permanent spousal 



Family Code section 4320 states:


‘’In ordering spousal support under this part, the court shall consider all of the following circumstances:


(a) The extent to which the earning capacity of each party is sufficient to maintain the standard of living established during the marriage, taking into account all of the following:


(1) The marketable skills of the supported party; the job market for those skills; the time and expenses required for the supported party to acquire the appropriate education or training to develop those skills; and the possible need for retraining or education to acquire other, more marketable skills or employment.


(2) The extent to which the supported party's present or future earning capacity is impaired by periods of unemployment that were incurred during the marriage to permit the supported party to devote time to domestic duties.


(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.


(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.


(d) The needs of each party based on the standard of living established during the marriage.


(e) The obligations and assets, including the separate property, of each party.


(f) The duration of the marriage.


(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.


(h) The age and health of the parties.


(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.


(j) The immediate and specific tax consequences to each party.


(k) The balance of the hardships to each party.


(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.


(m) The criminal conviction of an abusive spouse and the elimination of the award in accordance with Section 4325.


(n) Any other factors the court determines are just and equitable.’’


How Long Can I Expect to Pay or Receive Spousal Support?

Generally, spousal support for marriages less than ten years will terminate after one-half the period of the marriage. But, this is dependent on many factors, particularly the goal that the Legislature has stated of fostering ‘’self-sufficiency.’’


And, Spousal Support also ends with the death of either party and/or the re-marriage of the supported party.