Spousal support, known previously as alimony, is the subsidy paid by one party to the other to assist in the standard of living of the supported spouse. Conceptually, if the parties are young, support is likely to decrease over time as the recipient's income increases. Should the supported spouse be older or not able to retrain or increase her or his earnings, support is more likely to remain level.
Spousal support is either temporary or permanent. Temporary support is established to preserve the status quo until there is sufficient information to make a permanent award. Permanent support may be higher or lower than the temporary support amount.
Today there are software programs which are used to compute temporary spousal support. In Marin County Support Tax is used; Alameda and Contra Costa use the DissoMaster. Both programs have been approved by the Judicial Council and properly used will yield nearly identical results.
California uses several variables to determine "permanent" spousal support including the age of the parties, their health, employment history, the length of the marriage, assets and obligations of the parties, and other factors which are reasonable, Family Code Sections 4320-4325. In addition, California statute draws a distinction between short-term marriages, those lasting less than ten years and long-term marriages exceeding ten years. Typically, short term marriages give rise to specific periods of support, typically half the length of the marriage. Long-term marriages may yield lengthy or indefinite support until the death of either party or remarriage of the recipient.
Unlike child support which is always modifiable, spousal support may be modifiable, variable, or it may be non-modifiable (fixed). This is decided by joint agreement between the parties based upon their respective emotional and financial preferences..
Spousal support is deductible for the payor and is includible in the recipient earnings for the purposes of income taxes. It is viewed as a pass-through; as if the recipient had "earned" the funds. Therefore, the recipient will be required to make quarterly estimate payments with the federal and/or state tax agencies.