Support Amount: The two numbers that matter in child support and spousal support are the amount of the support and the duration of the support. California has published guidelines for child support and temporary spousal support. For spousal support, there is a distinction between temporary spousal support and post-agreement (or post-trial) support. Spousal support, if needed, should be negotiated thoughtfully, voluntarily, and based on reliable information. Child support cannot be completely waived because it belongs to the child, although if both parents have sufficient income, they can agree that support is not presently due. Reaching agreement is best accomplished when both parties have sufficient and reliable information to support their voluntary agreement. Using complete and accurate financial disclosures will support the goal of the mediation: a comprehensive, fair, and lasting agreement.
Duration of Support: Child support generally extends through high school graduation, or until age 18 if the child is no longer in school. Typically, for a marriage of less than ten years, spousal support, if needed, might last for half the length of the marriage. The goal is usually for the spouse to become self-supporting within a reasonable period of time, but the particular facts of a long-term marriage may illustrate the need for long-term support.
How to Prepare for Spousal Support Negotiations: Both spouses, the one who may pay spousal support and the one who may receive support, might consider the following questions that are loosely based on Family Code 4320. The notion of a “probable range” of acceptable support is quite useful in preparing for a fair and lasting agreement.
a. Is the earning capacity of each party sufficient to maintain the standard of living established during the marriage?
- For party seeking support, what marketable skills do you have? What is the job market for those skills? How long and how expensive would it be to update your job skills? Do you need retraining or more education to acquire a different kind of employment or set of marketable skills?
- How has your present or future earning capacity been impaired by taking time off or reducing your work hours in order to take care of your children or attend to other domestic duties?
b. How much did you contribute to the education, training, career position, or a license held by the other party?
c. What is the ability of the other party to pay spousal support, taking into account the other party’s earning capacity, earned and unearned income, assets, and standard of living?
d. What are the needs of each party based on the standard of living established during the marriage?
e. What are the obligations and assets of each party, including separately held assets?
f. What was the duration of the marriage?
g. To what extent can you work at gainful employment without unduly interfering with the interests of your dependent children when they are in your custody?
h. What is your age and how is your health?
i. How should documented evidence of a history of domestic violence affect spousal support? Are you willing to inform your mediator of any concerns about power imbalances or safe and effective participation in mediation?
j. What are the immediate and specific tax consequences of spousal support to each party?
k. For each party, what other hardships should be considered?
l. When counting up the length of the marriage, should periods of separation be included? Is there any reason why it would not be reasonable to expect you to become self-supporting? How much time do you need to become self-supporting?
m. Is there a criminal conviction for abuse that the court “shall” consider when reducing or eliminating spousal support?
n. The court may consider any other factors that are “just and equitable.” In other words, what is fair?
More Questions: The following additional questions may be pertinent to your situation:
Do you want to have a “step-down” of spousal support as the supported party becomes more self-sufficient economically?
Is there a reason to continue the spousal support for more than half the length of the marriage?
Should the amount of spousal support be modifiable? Once an agreement is reached, should the court lose its jurisdiction, its power, to make any changes?