How do you figure out alimony? Alimony is often a contested issue in pre-and post judgment divorces. A question about figuring out alimony is actually a three-part question. First, there is temporary alimony. Second, there is alimony at the judgment stage. Third, there is post judgment alimony modification.
How do you figure out alimony for a temporary order?
Alimony is temporary when it is prejudgment (before judgment). Prejudgment is while the divorce case is unfinished and still pending. Judgment is usually the final document in a divorce case that sets forth all of the terms for each and every issue in the divorce. For example, a judgment would end the status of the marriage, divide all of the assets and debts, have orders regarding custody and visitation, child support and alimony.
It is possible to have a partial judgment. Here, a partial judgment finalizes certain issues but the court reserves other issues for a later ruling. For example, the spouses may agree to a custody and visitation judgment and make those a final order while other issues remain unresolved. What we refer to here is a judgment that includes alimony.
Figuring out temporary alimony through a computer program
Temporary alimony orders are usually the product of a computer formula. This is the same computer formula that determines child support. The attorney or judge inputs within this computer formula certain factors including:
- each spouse’s income,
- certain deductions, and
- all of the relevant child-support factors, if child support is also an issue.
If the parties do not have minor children, they can still run a temporary alimony number without any child related factors.
This computer program makes certain assumptions regarding issues. One of the issues is the amount a person pays in income taxes. For these reasons, alimony calculators are not necessary accurate as to what alimony should be long term. The general opinion among experienced family law attorneys is the computer program provides a number that is likely higher than what the ultimate alimony award in a judgment might be.
Child support’s impact on alimony
One important issue when you consider how to figure out alimony on a temporary basis through the computer program is to realize child support has a direct impact on the alimony number. Alimony comes after child support. For that reason, the alimony number may be artificially lower than it normally would because of child support.
How do you figure out alimony at the judgment stage?
First, forget everything we told you about alimony on a temporary basis through a computer program. The courts cannot determine the ultimate alimony number at the judgment stage on a computer program. California Family Code 4320 sets forth alimony factors at the judgment stage. These Family Code 4320 factors help the judge balance the different considerations before the judge awards alimony to one party.
Is there still a formula to figure out alimony?
It is not a strict formula. Income and expenses during the marriage that created the marital standard of living are part of the marital standard of living factors. Those are not the only factors but they are two important factors. So while a computer generated, mathematical formula does not rule the day, there is still a mathematical process.
How many years do we look back to figure out alimony and the marital standard of living?
For example, to figure out alimony based on the marital standard of living, do we look back three years before the date of separation? Five years? Longer? The answer to these questions depends on the case. In a very long term marriage, the period may need to be longer to provide a better analysis. But in a short-term marriage, time may not be as important. That is because there was not significant time to build a marital standard of living. As a general rule, three years to five years is a good rule of thumb for short and long-term marriages. Although there are circumstances where five years may be too short in a long-term marriage. This is especially true when income was highly volatile during those last five years. As a result, those last five years may not be a reasonable indication of the marital standard of living.
How do you figure out alimony after judgment?
I wrote an article for Orange County Lawyer Magazine on this subject. I titled the article”How Relevant Is the Marital Standard of Living in a Post-Judgment Spousal Support Modification Request?” You can read the article by following the link in the previous sentence.
Material change of circumstances standard
A post judgment modification of alimony requires the person who seeks the modification to show a material change of circumstances since the last order. We will not go into the details of what this “material change” means. Instead, let’s focus on how to figure out alimony in such a post judgment modification proceeding. To understand more about the facts which can lead to a material change of circumstances, please check out our page on reducing spousal support after judgment.
Re-visiting the Family Code 4320 factors again
The marital standard of living we discussed about is still relevant to a post judgment modification. That means the court still has to review the Family Code 4320 factors as part of the modification proceeding. However, how much relevance the court places on each factor is in the court’s discretion. One of those factors is how much time passed between the judgment and the modification proceeding. The more time there is between those two events, the less relevant the marital standard of living may become to the post judgment modification. That does not mean it becomes irrelevant. It just means it becomes less important than it was at the judgment stage.
To use a hypothetical, let us assume a family income of $12,000 per month built the marital standard of living. Let us assume the wife made $10,000 per month as the breadwinner while the husband made $2000 per month. In such a situation, let us assume the court ordered $3500 per month against the wife for spousal support. The wife then brings a post judgment modification of alimony. She claims the husband now earns $6000 per month in income.
The wife would argue the husband’s income increase since the judgment was a material change of circumstance. She would argue he earned $2000 per month at the judgment stage. She would further argue he now earns $6000 per month. Therefore, she would advocate:
- he is capable of maintaining the marital standard of living, and
- he no longer has a need for ongoing spousal support.
The court then decides whether he can maintain the marital standard of living at $6000 per month in income. If the marital standard of living was $12,000 per month, the ex-wife has a good argument.
Got questions about how to figure out alimony?
If your family law matter is in Orange County, Los Angeles County or Riverside’s central court on Main Street, please contact us for an affordable strategy session to discuss your specific situation. Our family law firm is highly experienced in handling pending and post-judgment divorce and parentage matters.
Nothing contained on this page or on our website is legal advice nor should it be construed as such. It is not intended to apply to your specific situation or answer your specific questions.