Spousal support, or alimony, is one of the most challenging issues to handle during a divorce, especially since it affects a spouse’s financial dependence or independence in the long run. Unlike child support, which is almost always calculated using California guidelines and standards, spousal support is more complex to determine and can be subject to much greater discretion by a judge. That is why mediation is a positive alternative for both parties when it comes to negotiating spousal support amounts. An experienced mediator will assist spouses in reaching a fair settlement on both the amount of support and the duration of support.
The general standard to determine spousal support in California is that both parties are entitled to enjoy “the same standard of living they were accustomed to during the marriage.” This means that after the divorce, a spouse’s living conditions shouldn’t drastically change (for better or worse) and be too different from the other spouse’s. The idea is that both spouses should either be able to maintain their previous standard of living or equally share a decline in their standard of living. Running two households is more expensive than one so this is a distinct and common possibility.
In California, spousal support is determined by the length of the marriage (standard length of alimony in a marriage less than 10 years is one-half the length of the marriage). It is usually paid only as long as a spouse cannot maintain that standard of living on his/her own, and it is capped at what the payor spouse can afford to pay while meeting his/her own needs. While California will not deny spousal support when needed, it also considers that both spouses have an obligation to support themselves and it will ask parties to calculate spousal support taking into account a spouse’s:
• Educational level
• Vocational skills
• Need for further education or training
• Work experience
• Earning capacity
• Time spent out of the workforce
• Parental responsibilities for the children
• Amounts received from asset and property distribution
California requires both spouses to make full financial disclosures as part of the divorce proceeding. This is an important step as both parties’ resources are used to determine their financial needs and ability to pay spousal support. Spouses need to complete an income and expense form, where they will list all sources of income, including bonuses, overtime, and benefits, as well as common and separate assets. Most of these items have a measurable value and should be factored into a spousal support negotiation and calculation.
Once a mediator has obtained all of this information and explained to both spouses the rationale behind spousal support, determining the amount of monthly spousal support should be an easier task. Remember that spousal support amounts are usually tax deductible to the payor spouse and taxable income to the recipient spouse. Also remember that a spousal support order can be modified if there is a "substantial change in circumstances" (either in terms of earnings or need). Also, if a recipient spouse cohabitates or remarries, a payor spouse can request his/her spousal support amounts to be adjusted. That’s why it’s so important to discuss the various possibilities that may come up after a divorce with your mediator, so that both spouses are aware and can plan their financial future accordingly.
To learn more about the mediation process, complete our request for a free online evaluation, and to receive a free 30-minute phone consultation, visit us at www.afairway.com, or call 619-702-9174