Welcome to FreeDivorce.com.
Christina: This is Christina.
Ed: This is Ed. Today, we are going to talk about long-term spousal support.
Christina: In our last video we explained that courts in California use computer software programs, such as DissoMaster, to calculate temporary spousal support that is paid while parties wait to get to trial or until a final settlement agreement can be negotiated. Ed, what about long term spousal support, how do courts determine the amount of long-term spousal support?
Ed: The courts do not, or at least are not supposed to, use a computer program to determine the amount of long-term spousal support. Instead, they are required by law to perform what divorce lawyers call a Family Code 4320 analysis. Family Code 4320 sets forth a list of factors that the court is required to take into consideration when deciding how much long-term spousal support to award and the duration of that support. There are a lot of factors listed in Family Code 4320. Those factors include items such as the income of the parties, the assets of the parties, the age and health of the parties, the duration of the marriage, the marital standard of living, and many other factors. You will be able to find a copy of Family Code 4320 in our Court Forms Database. If you go to our database, you can print a copy of Family Code 4320 and read all of the factors the court takes into consideration when making decisions about the amount and duration of spousal support.
Christina: So, is the amount and duration of long-term spousal support pretty vague because it is determined at the discretion of the trial judge?
Ed: That’s true. Long-term spousal support is just the opposite of child support. When it comes to child support, the law says the courts must use a very precise “guideline” support formula that is set forth in the child support statutes. Judges have very little discretion. Judges are “locked-in” and must order the guideline amount of child support, except for a few special circumstances. However, when it comes to long-term spousal support, judges are given wide discretion to decide how much spousal support should be ordered and the duration of that support. A trial judge’s decision regarding long-term spousal support won’t be reversed on appeal unless the judge abused his or her discretion. If you were to litigate the issue of guideline child support before 5 different judges, you should end up with about the same result every time. However, if you were to litigate the issue of long-term spousal support before 5 different judges, you would likely get five very different results because the trial judge is not putting data into a computer program and pushing a button to see how much spousal support should be paid. Instead, the judge, at trial, listens to testimony on all of the various factors set forth in Family Code 4320 and then makes a decision as to what amount of support should be paid and the duration of the support. The judge has an incredibly wide range of discretion when it comes to decisions about long-term spousal support. This makes it very difficult for divorce lawyers to know the amount of long-term spousal support a judge will award without actually putting on a trial that includes testimony about all of the Family Code 4320 factors.
Christina: If the amount and duration of long-term spousal support are not determined by a computer calculation, how do people that are trying to negotiate a spousal support agreement know how much spousal support should be paid?
Ed: You can’t know how the particular judge assigned to your case is going to decide the amount and duration of long-term spousal support without going through an actual trial. So what do you do about the amount of spousal support if you want to have an uncontested divorce and you don’t want to go through a trial? What you can do is look at the temporary spousal support number generated by computer support software calculators such as DissoMaster. As I previously mentioned, judges are not supposed to use computer programs to determine long-term spousal support. The law prohibits them from even using the computer temporary support number as a “jumping-off point”. Regardless of the law, judges do in fact look at the temporary spousal support number. Lawyers negotiating spousal support also look at that temporary spousal support number. You at least need a starting point if you are going to be able to reach an agreement on long-term spousal support for an uncontested case.
Christina: So, let’s say I want to reach an agreement about long term spousal support. I’ve run my DissoMaster support program and come up with the temporary spousal support number. Now, what do I do?
Ed: Most people are going to look at that temporary spousal support number that was calculated with the computer program and then begin settlement discussions using that number. They may agree to adopt the temporary number as a long-term spousal support number for settlement purposes. They may agree to discount that number or inflate the number. You can look at the temporary support number and then look at the Family Code 4320 factors and decide if the temporary support number should be increased or decreased. You can also schedule a consultation with an experienced divorce attorney in your county and ask that attorney if most of the judges in your county tend to order long term spousal support in an amount that is about the same, significantly higher, or significantly lower than the temporary number.
Christina: In the next video, we are going to go over how to run a DissoMaster support program.