During divorce or domestic separation the judge may order one of the parties to pay money to the other for a given period of time. This ongoing payment is referred to as ‘spousal support.’ Likewise, the same payment in the case of a domestic partnership is referred to as ‘partner support.’ While there are different terms for describing this court ordered obligation for ongoing support payments, one of the most common terms used under both circumstances is ‘alimony’.
Circumstances The Family Court Will Consider
In contrast to the statutory formula for guideline child support, there is no set formula to calculate alimony. Instead, judges must consider the circumstances identified in Family Code § 4320 before ordering permanent spousal support. By weighing the statutory factors the judge will determine whether spousal or partner support is warranted, and if so, in what amount and for how long.
The factors the judge must consider are as follows:
- Ability to maintain the standard of living during marriage in light of earning capacity: 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 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; and 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.
- Contributions to other spouse’s education: 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 supporting spouse’s ability to pay permanent spousal support: 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.
- Needs based on the marital standard of living: the needs of each party based on the standard of living established during the marriage.
- Assets & debts: the obligations and assets, including the separate property, of each party.
- The duration of the marriage.
- Supported spouse’s ability to gain employment without burdening children: 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.
- Domestic violence: documented evidence, including a plea of nolo contendere, of any history of domestic violence between the parties or perpetrated by either party against either party’s child, including 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.
- Tax consequences: The immediate and specific tax consequences to each party.
- The balance of the hardships to each party.
- Goal of self-support: 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, 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 and the circumstances of the parties. (See Gavron Warning).
- Spousal abuse conviction: 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.