Click here to read the article "Navigating the Minefield of Divorce & Support" by
T. Elizabeth Fields, which was published in the Los Angeles Business Journal on August 15,
When parties divorce, often one spouse needs financial support from the other spouse for a period of time after their legal separation. The determination of the amount and length of spousal support is a complex matter involving a balancing application of facts and law. California provides for a two-tiered approach to spousal support.
The first form of spousal support is commonly known as Temporary Spousal Support (pre-Judgment), which may be awarded shortly after the onset of the divorce case. This is intended to assist the supported spouse to continue to live on a temporary basis at the lifestyle he or she had immediately prior to separation from his or her spouse and to satisfy his or her financial needs. It can be awarded by way of a stipulated order or by an order of the Court after a motion requesting support has been filed and heard. The Court, in its discretion, may select its own support figure to be paid, or may rely upon a standardized computer software program to determine support by considering parties' incomes (or imputed incomes) and tax effected expenses. Temporary Spousal Support may include a payment directly to the supported spouse or may be in the form of payment of the supported spouse's expenses, or a blend of both.
The second form of spousal support is commonly known as Permanent Support (post-Judgment), which is awarded in a divorce Judgment. It may have an expiration date or may be open-ended. Factors which affect the length and amount of permanent support include the marital standard of living, the duration of the marriage, the needs of the parties, the ability to pay support, the ability of each spouse to be self-supporting, the age and health of the parties, the history of domestic violence perpetuated against one spouse, and many other factors known as the California Family Code 4320 factors. Since permanent spousal support has long term ramifications to both the payor and recipient of spousal support, the proper handling of this issue is absolutely critical for both parties.
Often the issue of permanent spousal support is argued before and decided by a judicial officer at Trial, in which case the Court can make specific factual findings with regard to the standard of living during the marriage, and may make appropriate factual determinations with respect to other circumstances.
Generally, spousal support payments are tax deductible to the paying spouse. They are also deemed taxable income to the receiving spouse. Therefore, it is wise for the supported spouse to consult a tax attorney to assure the proper payment of income taxes. However, the parties can agree by way of a stipulated order to have the spousal support not be taxable income to the receiving spouse, if it is also not deductible to the paying spouse. The parties can also agree to a lump sum buy-out payment. Competent legal counsel is a critical component to assure that the form and structure of a spousal support stipulated order is carefully drafted to avoid potentially serious and expensive pitfalls and complications.
For more information and a consultation with T. Elizabeth Fields please call (310) 860-7661.