Spousal support comes up in three main settings: 1) temporary orders (pre-judgment); 2) judgment support (also confusingly known as “permanent support”); 3) post-judgment modifications.
Requests for temporary orders are often filed soon after a divorce is initiated. They are normally based on a guideline formula implemented by the Dissomaster software, although the court have wide discretion to modify the formula’s suggestions.
Judgment support comes up in settlement negotiations and at divorce trial if negotiations fail. Judges are not allowed to use the guideline formula for judgment support, and instead rely on Family Code §4320 factors to guide them. These factors are composed of:
(a) The extent to which the earning capacity of each party is sufficient to maintain the standard of living established during the marriage, taking into account all of the following:
(1) The marketable skills of the supported party; the job market for those skills; the time and expenses required for the supported party to acquire the appropriate education or training to develop those skills; and the possible need for retraining or education to acquire other, more marketable skills or employment.
(2) The extent to which the supported party’s present or future earning capacity is impaired by periods of unemployment that were incurred during the marriage to permit the supported party to devote time to domestic duties.
(b) The extent to which the supported party contributed to the attainment of an education, training, a career position, or a license by the supporting party.
(c) The ability of the supporting party to pay spousal support, taking into account the supporting party’s earning capacity, earned and unearned income, assets, and standard of living.
(d) The needs of each party based on the standard of living established during the marriage.
(e) The obligations and assets, including the separate property, of each party.
(f) The duration of the marriage.
(g) The ability of the supported party to engage in gainful employment without unduly interfering with the interests of dependent children in the custody of the party.
(h) The age and health of the parties.
(i) All documented evidence of any history of domestic violence, as defined in Section 6211, between the parties or perpetrated by either party against either party’s child, including, but not limited to, consideration of:
(1) A plea of nolo contendere.
(2) Emotional distress resulting from domestic violence perpetrated against the supported party by the supporting party.
(3) Any history of violence against the supporting party by the supported party.
(4) Issuance of a protective order after a hearing pursuant to Section 6340.
(5) A finding by a court during the pendency of a divorce, separation, or child custody proceeding, or other proceeding under Division 10 (commencing with Section 6200), that the spouse has committed domestic violence.
(j) The immediate and specific tax consequences to each party.
(k) The balance of the hardships to each party.
(l) The goal that the supported party shall be self-supporting within a reasonable period of time. Except in the case of a marriage of long duration as described in Section 4336, a “reasonable period of time” for purposes of this section generally shall be one-half the length of the marriage. However, nothing in this section is intended to limit the court’s discretion to order support for a greater or lesser length of time, based on any of the other factors listed in this section, Section 4336, and the circumstances of the parties.
(m) The criminal conviction of an abusive spouse shall be considered in making a reduction or elimination of a spousal support award in accordance with Section 4324.5 or 4325.
(n) Any other factors the court determines are just and equitable.
Post-judgment modifications are requested in cases where time has elapsed since the judgment was entered, the parties’ circumstances have changed, and one of the parties feels that it’s no longer equitable to be bound by prior orders. Same §4320 factors are employed in these cases.