The good news is that a Collaborative Divorce allows you to be creative in determining what financial arrangements would work for your family, including child support and spousal support. But if you are interested in learning about the default child support and spousal support laws in the State of California, this article will give you an overview.
- Child Support
In California, there is a “guideline” formula that is used to calculate child support, according to a legislatively prescribed mathematical formula. One of the most common programs that is used to do this is called the DissoMaster. Generally speaking, the program calculates child support by combining parties’ earnings, taking out money for taxes, adding back money for deductions (and some other adjustments), and then allocates what remains between the parties based on how much time each spends with the children.
When one or both parties’ income is variable, such as with a self-employed spouse or an employee who receives regular bonuses or equity grants, one approach is to fix monthly child support upon base salary alone. When additional income is earned, a party pays a percentage of that additional income as additional support. The DissoMaster generates a table that specifies the percentage that is applied to the additional income. If the person getting child support also receives periodic or variable income, there can be a “true up” of both parties’ additional incomes.
In addition to monthly child support, parents also share the direct expenses of the children, such as uninsured medical expenses, childcare so that a parent can work, extra-curricular expenses, summer camps, private school tuition and the like. Most commonly these expenses are shared 50/50.
Child support is tax free and is paid until the youngest child turns 18 or graduates from high school if he or she is 19 when they graduate.
- Temporary Spousal Support
For “temporary purposes” (which is the period of time between date of separation and the date of divorce), the same computer formula used to calculate child support – the DissoMaster — is the same program that is used to calculate guideline temporary spousal support while the divorce is in process. Basically, the program looks at how much net income is left after determining child support and allocates the rest of the income as spousal support.
- Long Term Spousal Support
Courts are not permitted to use the DissoMaster or the guideline formula for calculating spousal support after the date of divorce (so called “long-term,” “permanent” or “post-judgment” spousal support). Instead, the legislature has spelled out sixteen factors that courts must consider – everything from age, health, marital standard of living, ability to pay, need for support, years out of the workforce to raise children, etc.
The Family Code statute leaves little quantitative instructions, leaving the court to determine its own structure and amount. In long-term support, the court cannot use the guideline formula but must somehow come up with a support number using the sixteen factors, with the court determining how much weight to give each factor. This makes predicting spousal support near impossible, as the judge has wide discretion in determining support.
As far as how long would spousal support last, there is no absolute answer. In marriages under 10 years, the general (but not required benchmark) is for spousal support to last up to half the length of the marriage. In marriages over 10 years, there is no benchmark for how long spousal support should last. The “half the length of the marriage” rule does not apply in marriages over 10 years, and therefore, spousal support would be “indefinite.” “Indefinite” does not mean forever; just until there is a modification or change of circumstances that would affect the amount or the duration. Otherwise, spousal support would end if either party died or the person receiving support re-married.
This overview is not intended to be a substitute for individual legal advice. Please seek the advice of a family lawyer for your specific circumstance.