How Much Spousal Support Will the Court Order in California?
Updated: Nov 28, 2022
This is a two-part question: The first part is relatively simple, but the second part is somewhat complex—so much so that I believe no two judges would likely arrive at the same dollar amount. The first part of the question is: How much spousal support will the court order before a judgement is entered in your case? The second part of the question is: How much spousal support will the court order in the judgement of dissolution of marriage (or domestic partnership)? I will refer to the judgment of dissolution as the “final judgment,” although it rarely is final.
From the time spousal support is requested and an order is made until the time a final judgment is entered, the judge, assuming any spousal support is ordered, will make what is called a pendente lite order. Generally, this order, often called a “temporary” spousal support order, will be for an amount resulting from a mathematical formula.
The general formula used is: Monthly support = 40% higher earner’s net monthly income – 50% lower earner’s net monthly income. Google “income tax calculator,” and you will find a somewhat easy and somewhat accurate way to figure out the “net” amounts.
If you have children and child support will be ordered, figuring out pendente lite spousal support amount, ironically, is easier. The State of California has a calculator that will yield pendente lite spousal support and “guideline” child support figures. The calculator will not provide temporary spousal support amounts in the absence of a child support amount. I don’t know why, but that is what they want to do. Here is the link: https://childsupport.ca.gov/calculate-child-support/
Once the judge in your case signs the final judgement, the amount of spousal support may be different. The judge is specifically prohibited from using a mathematical equation in determining the spousal support amount in your case. If you feel like reading cases about this rule, here you are: Marriage of Burlini (1983) 143 CA3d 65, 69, 191 CR 541, 543; Marriage of Zywiciel (2000) 83 CA4th 1078, 1081-1082, 100 CR2d 242, 244-245; Marriage of Schulze, 60 CA4th at 526, 70 CR2d at 493; see also Namikas v. Miller (2014) 225 CA4th 1574, 1585, 171 CR3d 23, 31-32.
So how does the judge decide the amount of support in the final judgment? Well, they are required to apply and weigh the factors set forth in California Family Code Section 4320. I won’t list them here, but follow the link if you are curious.
Now, if you read 4320, you may find yourself asking, “I have no idea what amount should be payable.” It is normal to feel this way—and indeed I feel this way—but an experienced California family law attorney can give you a decent estimate. In my experience, the amount is typically less than the pendente lite amount. This is because the judgment awards community property to the spouse receiving support, and in most cases, this will make the needs of the supported spouse less.
The bottom line is that you, assuming you aren’t a family law attorney, will be unable to figure out on Google how much spousal support should be ordered in the final judgement, which is also sometimes referred to as “permanent support,” even though it is seldom permanent. With a little learning and work, you should be able to figure out the temporary support amount using Google.
This entire post should not be construed as legal advice. Family law is very fact specific, so there is no way I could create a short, simple post to address the issues I have written about today.
I will write a follow-up post on the duration of the “permanent support order” in a coming blog post. Stay tuned!