“Should we or shouldn’t we?”
After the decision has been made to go through with and file for divorce, two spouses must ask themselves the above question regarding whether or not they should arrange a financial settlement in divorce by way of spousal support.
Many couples tend to experience puzzlement when it comes to the manner in which spousal support operates. Confusion can center around the circumstances that allow one spouse to request the alimony support; which party is eligible to receive support payments and for how long a period of time the paying spouse will be obligated to make those payments; and what happens to the payment itself once the receiving spouse decides to remarry.
Contrary to popular belief, not all divorcing spouses are entitled to alimony payments.
For example, it is easy to assume that in a situation such as adultery, the divorce judge will punish the cheating spouse by ordering him or her to pay spousal support to the scorned party. Yet unfortunate to the affair’s victim, divorce laws does not work this way.
Another very common assumption is that because a wedded couple has spent time together sharing a marriage, one of the parties is now entitled to spousal support after divorce regardless how long the union lasted.
So if these assumptions are incorrect, what are the rules governing alimony guidelines, and how do they apply to the two spouses who are petitioning the Court for a marital dissolution?
The first thing to consider before any guidelines come into play is that the two spouses are free to come to their own arrangement for spousal support payments if they so choose.
If they opt for the mutual agreement route, the parties will then have to specify to the Court the amount of support to be paid; the length of time the payments will last; the reasons why the payment figure may increase or decrease in the future; as well as any other matter the spouses wish to include in their spousal support arrangements.
A second advantage to coming up with their own support plan is the parties can agree that the Court will not have the power to change the alimony payment amount at any time, no matter what the current (financial or otherwise) circumstances are of either spouse.
And what about those couples who need a spousal support order but cannot agree on an appropriate amount?
The state of California comes to the rescue with very specific standards for determining how much will be awarded to the receiving spouse.
To start, if the parties were married for less than ten years then alimony will normally be required to be paid for half the length of the marriage. For example, in a marriage lasting eight total years, payments will last for four years.
For marriages that lasted ten or more years, spousal support will be paid until the receiving spouse either remarries or dies.
But how does the divorce judge come to a decision about what constitutes a fair alimony payment amount?
Spousal support figures are determined with court-approved software, which uses the following guidelines when calculating an appropriate amount: the total income each spouse brings in from his or her job; the living expenses for each party; whether there were children born of the marriage and if so, how many days of the year the children spend with each parent; and various other factors.
Should the parties choose to have the Court decide for them on a fair spousal support figure, it is important for them to remember that the Court then has the right to adjust the total payment amount in the event the paying spouse loses a job, declares bankruptcy, becomes disabled or suffers from an unexpected hardship.
Yet this modification by the Court goes both ways, i.e. it will be applied to the receiving spouse as well if similar misfortune occurs and there is now a need for a higher total support amount.
So then what can one expect when it comes to spousal support?
It is really up to the spouses themselves.
In other words, the parties can opt to figure out their own agreement regarding payments; they can ask the Court to calculate and enforce a guideline figure for them; or they can choose to forgo alimony altogether, and become self-sufficient once the final divorce has been granted.