California Spousal Support Guideline

Is there really a "guideline" for spousal support?

California Spousal Support Guideline – Understanding the Rules

California spousal support guideline and rules can be difficult to understand. In this article we are going to discuss the calculation of temporary spousal support (also called alimony) in the middle of a divorce case.

California spousal support guideline require the use of a computer formula. It is the same computer software program that is used to determine child support. This software is usually either "Dissomaster" or "X-spouse." The spousal support guideline requires the divorce attorney to input the income of the spouses and various other factors. The program then gives you a spousal support number.

The amount of child support must first be calculated because the program takes that child support amount into consideration when determining the spousal support number. You can probably figure out this is a common sense approach because, without taking child-support into consideration, the California spousal support guideline amount could exceed the net disposable income of the spouse paying the child support.

There are exceptions that exist to using the computer program and good divorce attorneys as well as attorneys in any other county are mindful that not every case is appropriate for a California spousal support guideline calculation. Let's look at a few of these (this list is only the most common, not all of the exceptions):

1. Tax consequences that are different than what the California spousal support guideline formula assumes.

The computer program that calculates a guideline formula assumes that a certain tax consequences exists from the gross income. In other words, the computer program assumes the taxes you will pay. If this is not consistent with what you actually pay, then you should consider gathering evidence in support of that claim to show the court that the California spousal support guideline assumptions regarding your net disposable income are incorrect. This will modify the spousal support number and likely result in a lower number, although deviating from the guideline amount is in the broad discretion of the court.

2. Support obligations from other relationships and impact

If you have support obligations that arise from a prior relationship, the court has the discretion to take that into consideration when calculating your spousal support in the present case.

3. Unusually high expenses not considered by the California spousal support guideline formula

If you have unusually high expenses that you believe the court must take into consideration because it will not be reasonably possible for you to make the guideline support payment and continue to maintain those expenses, those expenses should be brought to the court's attention along with evidence of the expenses. Courts are not always sympathetic of additional expenses because there are many in society, Orange County included, who will live beyond their means. Typically, if the family court is going to take the extraordinary expenses into consideration, the expenses must be a necessity of some type, not merely spending or living beyond reasonable means.

4. The California support number guideline is disproportionate to "need"

The California spousal support guideline number does not recognize what the need of the supported spouse is. It simply is a computer program that makes assumptions of net disposable income. If you can show that the spousal support number is completely inconsistent with the need of the spouse who is seeking support, the court has the discretion to modify the support member and deviate from the computer spousal support guideline formula when calculating alimony. Evidence of need must be compelling because in almost every case the person paying the support wants to argue that it is too much and inconsistent with the need of the other spouse.

Typically, we see this issue arise in high asset and income divorce cases where, although the parties live a lavish lifestyle, there are few debts associated with that lifestyle and therefore the spouse support amount becomes disproportionate to what the supported spouse needs to maintain that marital standard living and the support number essentially becomes a monthly savings plan for the supported spouse.

The California spousal support guideline formula is only appropriate when calculating temporary spousal support. It is not appropriate when determining what the long-term spousal support should be at a trial. At trial, the court cannot rely on the computer formula and cannot even consider what this prior spousal support guideline formula was. The court must make its decision on California Family Code section 4320.

Do you expect spousal support to be an issue in your divorce case? Do you have a pending spousal support order that you believe is too low or too high? More questions about the California spousal support guideline calculation? Would you like us to do the calculation for you?

We know these issues can be complicated and stressful. That is why our experienced divorce attorneys are only one phone call or email away. Contact us for a strategy session.

For additional reading on spousal support issues, check out our informative article on Gavron Warnings in California.

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