Q: How is spousal support computed in California, and how can a lawyer assist me in getting spousal support or defending against an onerous support award?
A: Whether you need spousal support in order to continue to afford the necessities of life for you and your children, or you need to protect yourself against the issuance of an unmanageable spousal support order, Brian Kramer is experienced in analyzing all the relevant facts and circumstances that may affect a spousal support award, and will protect your rights either through negotiation or before a judge in a contested matter if the matter cannot be resolved amicably.
There are two types of spousal support —“temporary,” or “pendente lite,” support, and “permanent,” or “post-Judgment,” support. The two types of support serve completely different purposes. Temporary support is intended to preserve the status quo in order to provide stability for the financially weaker spouse at the outset of a divorce action. Temporary support addresses the facts and circumstances of the parties as of the day that the request for support is made. Typically, the court will plug the relevant figures into a computerized support program known as Dissomaster, and the amount that the program suggests should be paid in temporary support is ordinarily what is ordered. In most cases, temporary support will be paid until such time as the Judgment of Dissolution is entered, though they are ordinarily subject to modification as circumstances change during the dissolution process.
Post-Judgment or permanent support, however, is based on an analysis of a variety of factors found in the Family Code, and takes a longer view of the marital relationship when deciding on the appropriate amount of support to be paid. Though the term “permanent” is frequently used to describe post-judgment support, spousal support orders are rarely truly permanent. Rather, the family law court will fashion an order for support in such a way as to diminish over a set amount of time, to terminate upon a date certain, or otherwise reflect the court’s consideration of the various factors the court must weigh when awarding post Judgment support. In a marriage of 10 years or longer, post-judgment support is presumptively permanent, which in the usual case means that the court will not set a definite date for termination, but may simply reserve its right to modify the support award if that becomes appropriate in the future. In marriages of less than 10 years’ duration, the general rule of thumb is that support will be made payable for one-half the duration of the marriage. This is not a hard and fast rule, as the court must balance all of the factors when exercising its discretion in determining the proper amount of support. Unlike temporary support, if the court were to utilize a computerized support program to determine the amount of support rather than weighing the appropriate factors, the court’s order will be overturned by the appellate court as an abuse of discretion.
The factors a court must weigh in determining post-judgment support include the following:
• Each spouse’s income
• Length of the marriage
• Age and health of both spouses
• Spouse’s marketable abilities
• Standard of living during marriage
• Debts and resources of each spouse
• If one spouse quit his/ her job to care for children
• If one spouse paid for the other to attend school
• Earning power and ability to pay spousal support
• Disrupting the care of the children
• History of domestic violence
Importantly, the family law court also recognizes that both spouses have an obligation to support themselves eventually, which is the primary reason that most spousal support orders will not be truly permanent. Over time, the supported spouse must make efforts to become self-supporting, unless the facts of the specific case indicate that he or she cannot reasonably be expected to do so.
Obtaining the Highest Support Order
Of the above factors, determining what qualifies as “income” is where Brian’s extensive experience as a Certified Family Law Specialist will be critical. The accurate amount of income that goes into the equation is extremely complex, especially when a spouse is a business owner, is self-employed, or has worked for multiple employers. In addition, income from investments (some of which may be hidden or simply forgotten about) must also be entered. Brian is experienced in all technical aspects of evaluating income available to pay support, including identifying income producing assets or investments yielding a return. In more complex cases where income may not be readily identifiable, spousal support issues often require the help of an experienced forensic accountant to reach an accurate calculation. Brian has relationships with many of the family law forensic accountants in the Southern California region, and can recommend the accountant best suited to your particular needs.
Opposing Unmanageable Spousal Support
The ability to obtain the highest support order also means that Brian is skilled at defending against unmanageable or onerous spousal support awards that can be financially crippling. If you are concerned that a spousal support request does not accurately reflect the economic realities of your financial situation, Brian can assist you in educating the family law court with the relevant facts germane to the spousal support decision, and make sure that you get all of the deductions and credits to which you are entitled. Additionally, Brian can take steps to ensure that the supported spouse understands early on that he or she will be required to find work if underemployed, and can secure court orders to that effect by seeking and obtaining a so-called Gavron Warning.
Modifications of Spousal Support Orders
Things change. If your situation has changed and a spousal support order needs to be modified, Brian is especially adept at seeking modification of post-judgment support orders or enforcement of orders. Brian is the founder of LA SupportModification.Com which is a website dedicated to such matters.
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