The determination of the amount really depends upon what type of alimony, oftentimes called, “spousal support,” use those references synonymously – is looking at. There are two different phases that most courts will look at, certainly, in California, and that is temporary spousal support and long-term spousal support.
Temporary spousal support is that which one spouse would pay to another while the dissolution action is pending. In other words, ongoing. And temporary could be for two months and it could be for 12 to 18, or 24 months in the unfortunate event of a very slow moving dissolution action. The purpose of temporary support is to preserve as best possible the marital status quo that existed before the commencement of the dissolution action.
And in California there are guidelines. Now guidelines for child support are mandatory in California, but not spousal support. The guidelines for spousal support, I should make clear, temporary spousal support in California are discretionary, but the guidelines are based upon trying to fairly share the income of the parties to give them some approximation of the marital status quo before the unhappy circumstance of divorce that came about.
On the other hand, there is long-term support. And long-term support is typically what’s ordered by a court at the end of an action, either because the parties have reached an agreement and the courts are approving an agreement. Or in the absence of an agreement after the court has heard evidence, typically at a trial.
Long-term support has a very different purpose. Unlike it’s temporary counterpart, long-term support is based, at least in California, on a variety of statutory facts. There are actual lists of factors in the California family code of what a court must consider in making an award of long-term support. The purpose of long-term support, being to provide adequate financial assistance to a spouse based upon the circumstances in which that spouse is left by the family law action.
We have a little different twist because in Nevada, community property continues until the date of divorce. So even though a legal action may be filed in the court and spouses may need financial assistance, one from the other, all of the money that is being earned during that period of time, except those coming from separate sources, all those monies are community in nature and the court will commonly look to provide each party half of that income. Again, in California, separation carries a legal consequence to the parties and their property acquisitions and earnings. In Nevada, the separation date doesn’t have that consequence so the court is generally looking at equal division of what is community property income right up until the time of the divorce.
The duration is often times a function of the length of the marriage, the age of the parties, and their ability to rehabilitate themselves and mitigate their dependence on the other spouse for support, given reasonable efforts in the future. Now the establishment and the quantification of spousal support, I think is one of most unpredictable and one of the most complicated things that I deal with as a family lawyer.
It’s a very difficult area of law to quantify by duration and amount.
Leslie Shaw practices family law in both California and Nevada, and has been involved in close to 1,000 family law matters largely involving litigation throughout his 40-year career. He is also a Certified Family Law Attorney, a status granted by the California Board of Legal Specialization.