Child and spousal support in California divorce

A common issue of serious contention in a divorce or other family law case is support. This is because money is a sensitive and difficult subject in these cases. Often you are dealing with the breakup of a household. Suddenly, the same money that used to support one household now has to support two. It’s tough, and leads to many emotional issues.

Child and spousal support are treated differently, but also the same. Let me explain…

Let’s start with the differences. First, spousal support is not available in a paternity, or UPA, case, but only in a divorce. Second, the judge has discretion to deny a request for spousal support, but cannot deny someone child support. Third, child support is always on the table as an issue, whereas spousal support must be specifically requested in the Petition to be considered.

Spousal support is used to keep each spouse in the same financial position that they were in during marriage. Generally it lasts approximately half the length of the marriage, except in long-term marriages, where it lasts indefinitely (which does not mean forever, but rather it lasts until an undetermined time in the future where it isn’t required anymore). The one receiving support has the legal obligation to become self-supporting as quickly as possible, considering that person’s ability to earn. It is commonly believed that a ten-year marriage is considered long-term, but I saw that the courts did not look at a marriage less than about 18-20 years as being long-term. Other counties may vary.

I already talked about how long child support lasts, so I won’t repeat myself. Child support is used for the health, maintenance and welfare of your child. Given that, it does not mean that you, as a payor of child support, can take your co-parent to court because you do not believe that your child support is being used properly. In California, we trust the parent to spend the child support appropriately, so the court won’t even consider an allegation that someone is squandering child support. At the same time, each parent has the legal responsibility to work to support your child financially. The court may order a parent to work who is not working or not working up to his or her potential.

In the beginning stages of a case, child and spousal support are calculated similarly, using the support calculator (which you can find here: support calculator). Spousal support on a long-term basis is calculated by a judge using a number of factors, including the need of the payee and the ability to pay of the payor.

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