Spousal or Partner Support FAQs

If you are divorcing or ending a domestic partnership, one issue you may face is spousal or partner support.  Here are answers to questions divorce lawyers are often asked about this issue.

How does a spouse or partner get a support order?

To get a court order for support, one spouse or partner must file an underlying action for dissolution or legal separation of marriage or domestic partnership and ask the court to order support.  In limited situations, the court can order spousal support in a nullity action.  A spouse or partner has no legal obligation to pay support to the other spouse or partner, even after they separate, until there is a court order.

What is the difference between temporary and long-term spousal support?

Temporary support is support that is ordered and paid while a dissolution action is pending.  Long-term support is paid after the dissolution is concluded.  Many counties have formulas for calculating the amount of a temporary spousal or partner support order.  However, the judge will not use a formula to figure out how much spousal or partner support to order at the end of your case.

If the judge doesn’t use a formula, how will the judge decide how much long-term spousal support to order?

Unlike child support, there is no state-wide mathematical formula for spousal support.  The law lists a number of factors for the judge to consider, but the judge has a lot of leeway in coming up with the final amount.  The factors are:

  • The length of the marriage or domestic partnership.
  • Each person needs, obligations, assets, and ability to pay.
  • Whether the children’s needs would make it too difficult for one person to work.
  • The age and health of both people.
  • Whether one spouse or domestic partner helped the other get an education or career.
  • Whether there was domestic violence in the marriage or domestic partnership.
  • Whether one spouse’s or domestic partner’s career was affected by unemployment or by taking care of the children or home.
  • The tax impact of spousal support.

How long will spousal support last?

According to Family Code § 4320(1), the goal of spousal support is for the supported party to become self-supporting within a reasonable time. In a marriage of less than 10 years, a reasonable time is generally considered to be one-half the length of the marriage and that is how long the court will typically order support to continue.

What happens if the paying spouse dies before all the support is paid?

To ensure the supported spouse is not left without support if the other spouse dies, the support order may include an amount for the supported spouse to purchase an annuity or life insurance on the supporting spouse, or may require the supporting spouse to establish a trust to provide for the supported spouse. Family Code § 4360.

How are spousal and partner support taxed?

Usually, spousal support is tax deductible for paying spouse and taxable income for the supported spouse. This tax treatment does not apply to domestic partners.  Federal and state tax laws have not been changed to treat domestic partners like married couples. Because these laws can be very complicated, it is important to talk with an attorney who is knowledgeable about the tax consequences of dissolving a domestic partnership.

Contact a Los Angeles divorce lawyer

The above information is not intended as specific advice for any case.  It is for general education purposes only. Please call me at 805-777-7740 for a consultation if you would like more specific information. At Zonder Family Law, I offer my divorce clients options with a cost-conscious approach. I am committed to helping clients settle their cases expeditiously once all the necessary information is available.