Determining Child and Spousal Support in California

Arguably, one of the scariest parts of going through a divorce is trying to determine whether you will be able to make ends meet throughout the process and after the divorce is finalized.  With so many transitions taking place in a person’s life, it becomes important to form a budget.  But before a party is able to do that, he or she will need to determine what support should be expected.

As such, one of the first questions I hear from my new clients is, “How much child support will I have to pay?”  “How much spousal support will I have to pay?”  Or, “How much child and spousal support will I receive?”  This is determined by numerous family law statutes.

Child Support in California is determined by a guideline formula, and except in unusual cases, is not left to the discretion of the court. This formula is a complicated algorithm, but family law practitioners have access to computer software that will perform this calculation. The primary factors within this formula are the time each parent spends with the children and the respective income of the parties. There are also items that will affect support slightly, such as mortgage interest and property tax payments, health insurance premiums, and other tax deductions.

Spousal support is a whole different ballgame. While child support is almost always based upon the guideline calculations, spousal support is completely within a judge’s discretion. While the same computer software as was developed for child support contains a spousal support calculator, a judge is not obligated to order this. In fact, for a parties’ final divorce order, a judge is technically not even supposed to consider the guideline spousal support number.

Instead, the court is required to analyze factors set forth in Family Code Section 4320. These factors emphasize the needs of the supported party and the supporting party’s ability to pay. The court’s goal is to enable the parties to maintain the marital standard of living. However, given that there will be basically the same income available to support two separate households, this is often impossible and both parties will need to make some lifestyle changes.

All in all, child and spousal support orders are probably always going to be too high for the paying spouse and too low for the receiving spouse. Divorcing parties simply are going to have to make changes in their spending habits to enable the family to sustain two households. Therefore, it is important to know what to expect early on in your divorce to be able to adjust accordingly.

– By Tess Reutzel, Esq.

* The information in this article is for general information purposes only. Nothing in this article should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.

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