Most temporary spousal support orders are calculated using the same program used to calculate child support. Those orders are called “temporary guideline” spousal support orders. The parties can agree that this temporary guideline amount continue after judgment, however, if they do not agree to an amount of permanent support, and the court must make the decision at trial, the judge is not allowed to use the guideline formula, but must consider a number of factors listed in the Family Code, including the need for support by one spouse, the ability to pay support by the other spouse, the length of the marriage, the health and age of the parties, whether there are minor children, etc. In setting temporary spousal support, before judgment, however, if the court believes it is fair and equitable, the judge may make a temporary order based on those factors listed in the code section, rather than the guideline formula. Temporary guideline spousal support was created because, years ago, courts throughout the state were making wildly different temporary support orders depending on in what county the parties filed for divorce, regardless of the similarity of their circumstances. The temporary guideline spousal support formula was intended to create state-wide uniformity in temporary spousal support orders, but it is not mandatory to use like guideline child support.
One of the most significant factors in whether the court will order spousal support to continue after judgment is the length of the marriage. In California, any marriage that has lasted for ten years or more is considered a “long-term” marriage. In long-term marriage cases the presumption is that spousal support will continue after judgment, indefinitely, unless circumstances change, materially. A material change in circumstances that would justify a modification or termination of post-judgment spousal support in a long-term marriage include a change in income by the supporting spouse, the remarriage of the supported spouse, the death of either spouse, the supported spouse starting a job or getting a raise, etc. The basic requirement for modification is that there has been a change in either the need of the supported spouse for support, or the ability of the supporting spouse to pay support. One such change can be retirement of either spouse, which usually is followed by a decrease in that spouse’s income, creating either a decreased ability to pay support by the supporting spouse, or an increased need for support by the supported spouse, if the supporting spouse is still working.
Spousal support after judgment may also continue in a “short term” marriage (any marriage that lasted for less than ten years), but in those cases, it is far more likely the court will honor a request in a few years for spousal support to be terminated or reduced sharply. This is why: In all marriages, whether short or long term, the policy of the state is to encourage the supported spouse to work towards become self-supporting, or, at least, to show he or she has made “reasonable efforts” to contribute to his or her own support. For example, if a housewife who never worked during a long-term marriage and has little or no job experience, takes a part time job at minimum wage, the court will likely find that she has made reasonable efforts to contribute to her own support, even if her job does not make her self-supporting. In all cases, a supported spouse who finds a job and works, will be better off and have more disposable income, overall, even if his or her spousal support is reduced as a result. It is just not realistic to be entirely financially dependent on one’s ex-spouse.
Any party requesting orders for child support and/or spousal support, must file a form called an “Income and Expense Declaration” and attach to it proof of their income.