Are California Alimony Calculators Trustworthy?

A California alimony calculator is not helpful when it leads you down the wrong path

Should you really use an online California alimony calculator?

California alimony calculators became popular several years ago in the online legal community. Lawyers set up these calculators on their websites. Some represented to the users they can figure out their own alimony amount through this calculator.

Of course once you started reading all the disclaimers that came with the alimony calculator's use, you may have wondered if you could really rely on the thing. We are here to answer exactly that question. We will also show you how to properly calculate alimony and not take foolish shortcuts.

A California alimony calculator is not as reliable as you think

Our family law firm considered putting a California alimony calculator on our website but ultimately decided against it.

We did believe such a calculator may "look cool" and maybe provide a broad ballpark for temporary alimony but we also believed there is a much better way.

We write this article not to discourage you from using an online California alimony calculator if you want to do so.

We instead want to provide you with our perspective it is wiser to have a real strategy session with an experienced family law attorney. That is because in the strategy session, you get real numbers that are more carefully constructed and therefore more reliable. We will show you why in this article.

After you read this article, be sure to read our very informative guide on California alimony laws.

Nothing in this article is legal advice nor should it be construed as such.

Graphic shows difference between a California alimony calculator versus actual legal analysis

The court sometimes uses a computer program to determine temporary alimony

The key word there is temporary alimony. There is a big difference between temporary alimony and the final alimony amount. Even the word "final" alimony you should take with a grain of salt because alimony is usually modifiable after a divorce judgment.

Neither an alimony calculator nor the computer program courts and lawyers rely on helps very much for the alimony at the judgment phase.

That alimony number is no longer the temporary number or even the post-judgment number. That is because California law generally forbids the judge to rely on any computer program to determine any alimony number except for the temporary number. In other words, it is really only good for the temporary number and not much else.

Some lawyers still use the computer program when determining what the final alimony number should be. Is that wise? It depends.

If done by an experienced family law attorney who knows what they are doing, then it may provide a range of potential numbers. But that takes some program tweaking and something I have not yet seen an online California alimony calculator be able to do.

California alimony calculator may give you the wrong number

Graphic shows how alimony calculator can produce the wrong support number

You have children? How much is your child support going to be? You realize child-support depends in large part on parenting time, right?

So what is your parenting time going to be, going forward? You do not know? Even temporary alimony takes a back seat to child support. That is because you can't really figure out temporary alimony unless you first figure out what child support will be.

The higher the child-support number, the less disposable income the paying parent has to pay alimony on a temporary basis. So what good is it to you if you do not know what your child support will be to try and calculate the temporary alimony amount? The answer the simple - not much.

Does the online calculator give you the ability to set the proper tax basis?

California spousal support laws just got a kick in the butt from the United States Congress and Senate with the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. This Act eliminated, on a Federal level, the taxability of alimony to the receiving spouse and tax deduction for the paying spouse for divorce agreements executed after Dec. 31, 2018. The Act is more complicated than what I just wrote. However, for your purposes, have you asked yourself the critical question?

  • Does the California alimony calculator take these new tax settings into consideration?
  • If not, do you realize how significantly inaccurate that alimony calculator's number may be?

Who will pay the expenses, separate from alimony?

If you are the person who expects to pay alimony, what other expenses do you and your spouse have? For example, is your spouse a homemaker? Do you plan to leave the house while your spouse lives there? Who is going to pay the mortgage? Who's going to make the car payments?

Until you figure out the answers to these questions, you are walking blind if you think it is wise to start negotiating alimony. If you stretch yourself so thin that you're paying a significant amount of expenses and alimony on top of it, you may find yourself very quickly broke and unable to sustain either.

Check out our article on how to avoid paying alimony that is too much and for too long.

We also wrote on article for dads and the 5 dumb mistakes dads make during a divorce. If you are a father who will go through a divorce, it is must-reading.

What about the homemaker or lower income earner?

Are you the homemaker or the lower income earner? Do you expect to receive alimony? Have you taken into consideration whether the alimony amount will be sufficient to maintain your standard of living? Or is it smarter to have your higher earning spouse pay for household expenses in lieu of alimony on a temporary basis? Until you talk with an experienced family law attorney, these answers will not come easy.

You will enjoy our article on how along alimony is supposed to last

What if the post separation income is more than the marital standard of living?

What is the marital standard living? What if it was based on one number because of the average income earned during the marriage but then after separation, the incomes are completely different?

For example, let us assume the husband and wife built the marital lifestyle and the standard living on an average of about $100,000 per year. Let's further assume there were married for five years. Now fast-forward to them being separated in six months or a year later. Let's say the wife is actually earning $150,000 a year just by herself and the husband earns about $50,000 per year now.

Despite this large gap, is it really right for the wife to pay alimony based on the new income of $150,000 a year? The answer is probably, no. That is because the marital standard of living wasn't built on $200,000 a year combined income. And this is where an alimony calculator does not help you at all. Think about it. The purpose of alimony, even temporary alimony, is to maintain the status quo and that status quo is typically what occurred during the marriage.

We wrote a helpful article titled how long do you have to be married to get alimony?

A spouse should not be able to obtain a windfall after separation just because the other spouse earns more money than she or he ever did during the marriage. Alimony is not like child support. It should not adjust upward as income adjusts upward beyond the marital standard of living.

Relying on a California alimony calculator is often a bad idea

I could give you more scenarios where relying on an online California alimony calculator is unwise. I could even give you more examples where it could leave you in a bad financial position, regardless of whether you are the higher or the lower income earner.

But hopefully, this article gets you to think more about this before you blindly rely on one of those so-called California alimony calculators. And if you do go and use one that is okay too. Just remember it is no substitute for coming in to see us.

Let's talk about your situation so we can give you helpful legal advice

Speaking of seeing us, get into a consultation with us and let's do some smart calculations. We are an exceptional family law firm and one of the bigger family law firms in Southern California. We are very good at what we do and our clients trust and respect us because they know how hard we work for them, they see our communication skills and the results we obtain.

While every case is different and every case should be judged on its own facts, one thing I truly believe is there is no substitute for quality experience. And that is what our family law firm has many times over. We currently handle cases in each of the seven Southern California counties. We are ready to put our strength, experience and knowledge to work for you.

Contact us and come in for an affordable strategy session and we will show you exactly what we mean. We look forward to hearing from you.

Want to learn more about California alimony? We provide you with helpful article links below.