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Child & Spousal Support Basics

If you are going through a divorce, you may be wondering about spousal or child support and what amounts may be paid. The purpose of both child support and spousal support is essentially to keep the supported spouse from falling off a financial cliff after separation. 

Child support helps the supported spouse provide for the children while the children are in their care, and is also intended to try to equalize the standards of living between households, so the children don’t live in poverty with one parent, and in luxury with the other. Child support is intended to be used for the purchase of day-to-day items such as clothing, food, toys, etc while the children are with each parent. 

Spousal support is intended to help the supported spouse maintain the marital standard of living after separation. Spousal support is intended to be used by the supported spouse for the payment of rent or a mortgage, and other necessities of life, but for the day-to-day costs that the spouse typically purchased during the marriage. 

There are a number of factors that impact how the child or spousal support will be paid and in what amount.  

Let’s dive a bit deeper into these two types of support.

Spousal Support

Spousal support, frequently called alimony though this term is no longer used by the court, can be a significant financial commitment for some spouses. Whether you are receiving or paying spousal support, it is important to understand how these amounts are determined. 

The court looks at a number of criteria including length of the marriage, earning capacity of each spouse, how the parties lived during the marriage (the marital standard of living, or “MSOL”), physical/emotional conditions of each spouse, and whether there was abuse during or after the relationship. A list of the factors the court looks at can be found at https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/family-code/fam-sect-4320.html.  

The duration of spousal support depends on many different factors, but primarily is based on the length of the marriage. Generally speaking, a spouse may be eligible to receive spousal support for one half the length of the marriage.  However, in California, a marriage lasting longer than 10 years is considered a “long-term” marriage, and the supported spouse may be awarded spousal support indefinitely. It is important to note that a court does not typically award spousal support indefinitely, even in long term marriages and the latest trend in the courts is to move away from such long term, unending orders.   

Spousal support is not tax deductible for the payor spouse and not taxable as income to the receiving spouse for federal income tax purposes.  However, spousal support may be deductible and taxable for California state tax purposes, but the spouses can agree to make these payments non deductible/non-taxable, so it is important to get this clarified in any orders. Child support is not deductible/non-taxable for both federal and state income tax purposes. 

Child Support

Child support is in place to ensure that the child of the spouses is being financially supported throughout their formative years, which in California means until they reach the age of 18 or graduate high school, whichever occurs later.

There are a number of factors that can impact how much someone pays in child support, but the most important factors are the number of children, how much time the children spend with each parent, and the incomes of the parties. A great online calculator to help you figure out what child support will likely be in your case can be found here: child support calculator.

It is, however, worth noting that there is an exception in cases of child support if both parents are considered “high-earners”. Typically, this means that one or both parents earn so much that child support alone would be ordered at $30,000 or more per month. In such cases, the court looks at whether the children’s needs will be met by both parents and whether such high amounts of child support are really necessary to make sure the children have equal access to such a high standard of living between both households. If you think this may apply to your circumstances, you should contact an experienced family law attorney. 

FAQs About Child and Spousal Support

Let’s take a look at some of the most commonly asked questions we receive when it comes to alimony and child support.

What is the difference between child support and spousal support?

Child and spousal support differ in that child support refers specifically to financial assistance used for the mutual child whereas spousal support is intended to support the spouse, even if that spouse is already receiving child support.  

Can you get spousal and child support at the same time? 

Yes, child support and spousal support are not mutually exclusive. 

Does spousal support affect child support?

Yes, to some extent, the amount of child support a spouse receives is factored in to their need for support.  This is why, when the youngest child is no longer eligible to receive child support, the supported spouse may want to increase spousal support to decrease the loss of income created by the termination of child support. 

Get Help with Family Litigation

Child support and spousal support are complicated, highly litigated issues. If you have additional questions, or want to plan how to position yourself in a pending support matter, we at Hart Ginney LLP are happy to strategize, answer questions, or represent you in a contested action. 

Give us a call today or fill out a contact form to get in touch.

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