When navigating the waters of divorce in the state of California, it is important to understand the difference between Spousal Support and Child Support. They are both vitally important during a very stressful time. California law requires parents to support their children during and after marriage. Similarly, spouses can also be required to support each other during and after marriage.
In California alimony is also called spousal support and is most often tied directly to the length of the marriage. When a married couple decides to divorce after building a particular “lifestyle,” and there is a significant difference between the parties respective incomes the court may deem is necessary for the higher income spouse to support the lower income earner, If the spouses have similar incomes or financial assets, the court may not make one party support the other. Because two houses are more expensive than one, it is rare that both parties can have the same lifestyle after divorce as they did during marriage, but support makes it more likely that both parties can maintain a lifestyle that approaches that during marriage. In marriages of shorter duration, the judge may limit the period of time that support will last. In longer term marriages of 10 years or more, the judge has more limited powers to designate a termination date for support.
Orders for spousal support can consist of a single-lump payment, or they will direct one spouse to pay the other spouse a specified amount for a certain period of time or until a future order or written agreement provides for termination. Spouses can generally agree between themselves on the terms and conditions of the support payments. As long as an agreement meets legal requirements, and even if that agreement stipulates a complete waiver of support to the lower-earning spouse, the courts will uphold that agreement.
The court has discretion when making a spousal support order to include a notice to one or both spouses that they have an obligation to become self-supporting to the greatest extent possible within a reasonable period of time. This is usually one-half of the length of a marriage if the marriage was less than 10 years. The court needs to determine the ability of each spouse’s earning capacity to maintain the marital standard of living that they have established. These variables are considered when determining support:
- Length of the marriage
- Age and health of each spouse
- Assets and obligations, including separate properties, of each spouse
- The specific needs of the spouse requesting support
- Relative levels of education
- Marketable earnings skills of supported spouse and state of the job market for those skills
- Time/expense for the supported spouse to pursue education or training for employment
- Impairment of the supported spouse’s earning capacity due to unemployment for the responsibility of domestic duties
- Contribution of the supported spouse towards the attainment of training, education, professional licensing or career advancement of the other spouse
- Specific tax consequences of an award (pre 2019 orders generally made spousal support deductible by the paying spouse and reportable income by the recipient spouse; starting in 2019, spousal support is not taxable income or deductible)
- Where a spouse takes care of the parties’ children, whether ordering the spouse to find work is in the children’s’ best interest
- Documented history of domestic violence by the spouse seeking support against the supporting spouse or a history of violence between the spouses or between a spouse and any children of either party
Child support simply put, is the amount of money that the court orders one parent to pay the other on a monthly basis to assist in financially supporting the child(ren). California uses a guideline to determine the amount of child support that should be paid. The primary factors in the guideline are the relative differences between the parents’ incomes and the time each parent spends with the children under the custody order or in practice if there is no order. The court will also make orders about sharing health care costs for the children, as well as daycare expenses. The court can also make orders about expenses for education and after school activities. These payments are usually in effect until children reach 18, or after 18 if they are attending high school full time and living at home until they graduate or turn 19, whichever first occurs. Parents can be ordered by the court to continue supporting a disabled adult child if that child is not able to support themselves.
Child support can have difficult results, especially in this era of high housing costs. In many cases, a family that could afford to live in an urban area where they shared a house, cannot afford to stay in the same area in separate residences. Unfortunately, this is common, and difficult to resolve. Addressing this issue may affect the custody schedule. We can help.
Di Maria & Cone has been serving the Palo Alto and San Francisco Bay area since 1946. Every family’s needs are unique. We will advocate for you, customized to your personal case, during every stage to completion. To discover more about how Di Maria & Cone can provide effective and creative solutions based on your individual legal needs, please visit our website today or call us at (650) 321-4460.