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Spousal Support

Spousal Support: Myth and Reality Juxtaposed

by Paralegal Kristin Harrison

Spousal support is sometimes the most contentious issue in a divorce. Many people are more than willing to pay child support, but become irate over the issue of spousal support.  While a paralegal cannot give legal advice, we can provide factual information.  Here are some facts about spousal support:

1.  Myth: Spousal support is automatically granted for the rest of the supported party’s life if a marriage endures for 10 years or more.

Reality:  Spousal support is NOT automatically granted for the rest of the supported parties’ life after 10 years of marriage.

If the marriage endures 10 years or longer, a judge must set an end date for support, unless the parties can agree to an end date.  If one party is a high-earner and the other party has been home with children and not built a career, significant spousal support may be ordered payable to the party who did not build a career during the marriage.  HOWEVER, the age of the supported party, education, marketable skills, ability to return to school to gain/refresh work skills, are all considerations a judge will factor in when deciding upon an end date for spousal support.  If a woman married at 18 and is 38 when she divorces, it is highly unlikely that a judge will order support payable for the rest of her life.  The State discourages anyone from relying upon Spousal Support to pay the bills, the party ordered to pay support could die, lose a job, or become disabled, creating a circumstance under which spousal support will no longer be paid or will be reduced significantly.  The goal of the State is that the supported party become self-supporting.

2.  Myth: Spousal support CANNOT be ordered if a marriage endures less than 10 years.

Reality:  When a marriage endures for LESS than 10 years, spousal support can be ordered payable for one-half the length of the marriage.  Therefore, a marriage of 8 years could result in an order for spousal support payable for 4 years.  A marriage of 9 years and 11 months could result in a spousal support order payable for 4 years 11 months and 2 weeks.

This can be called the “Tom Cruise” rule of divorce: file for divorce at 9 years and 11 months of marriage to avoid having a judge determine the end date of support.

3.  Myth:  The court considers how much money you have after paying all your bills, then awards a percentage of that to your spouse.

Reality: A formula is used to determine support based upon the Gross Income of the paying party and the Gross Income of the supported party.  For example, if a Husband earns $60,000 per year and a Wife earns $15,000 per year, Husband could be ordered to pay Wife $1,091 per month.  If one party is a high-earner, $90,000 per year, and the other party earns $10,000 per year, the spousal support awarded to Wife could be $2,023 per month.  It is “disparity of income” , or unequal income, that drives a high spousal support award.

When a Wife has been at home with children for many years, the initial support order would include child support, and the spousal support order might be calculated using an income of Zero for Wife, as she has been out of the work force for a significant period of time and will need time to find employment.  Even when she does begin working, her earning capacity is diminished by her years out of the workforce.  In a long-term marriage, 10 years or longer, Wife has not built a career, and therefore it can be considered that she build an “interest” in Husband’s career during the marriage.  Spousal support can be considered an “off-set” to compensate Wife for her interest in the career Husband pursued during marriage.

Husbands often wish to dismiss the contribution to the marriage made by Wife when she was a non-earning spouse, but marriage is about The Community.  Whatever is a part of the marriage is a part of the Community.  The career of Husband is a part of the Community, and Wife has built a financial interest in the career of Husband by the simple fact that she is a part of the Community.

Divorce is a terrible thing, but apparently Spousal Support is an even more terrible thing.  By making a reasonable agreement regarding spousal support on your own, you can avoid expensive court battles that just might order support exactly where the formula puts it.  Hire a paralegal to fill out the paperwork, negotiate an agreement with your spouse regarding the level and duration of spousal support, and save yourself both money and the emotional toll of a court battle.

Do-It-Yourself Divorce with a Legal Document Assistant is located at 29970 Technology Dr #220 Murrieta 92563

Paralegal Kristin Harrison serves the cities of Murrieta, Temecula, Wildomar, Perris, Sun City, Menifee, Hemet, Winchester, and Canyon Lake.  Call 951-795-3900 to make an appointment.

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