Child Support & Spousal Support

Determining Sustainable Child Support & Spousal Support Amounts

In order to determine child support & spousal support amounts, the court uses a software program called Dissomaster, or a newer version, called XSpouse. The software program uses data transferred from documents that you both must complete called Income & Expense Declarations. You may have already run some numbers using an online support calculator, or you may have seen a divorce attorney who ran some numbers based on what you know or assume. In both instances, parties often get skewed amounts because they have not accurately included all of the data that is used in addition to basic incomes, such as commissions and bonuses, tax filing status, car allowance, housing allowance, tax credits, health insurance cost, mandatory union dues or retirement contributions, etc., or because you have used an unrealistic custody percentage.

The percentage of custody is also factored into the calculation, and that percentage isn’t known until after the parents have settled on a custodial schedule. Therefore, if you use a free online calculator based on data fragments or assumptions, you may create a false expectation of what child support will be and when you find out the actual Guideline support amount, one of you may be very disappointed.

The Child Support Checklist:

Many, if not most, of the following points are best determined with the help of experienced evaluators such as a Mediator, Lawyer, CPA and/or Forensic Accountant.

  • Have you established a custody schedule and accurately calculated time share percentage, including which one of you gets the credit for school hours, vacations and holidays?
  • Have you analyzed your respective Income & Expense Declarations and compared it with pay stubs and/or tax returns to determine that the stated income is accurate?
  • Have you determined which tax filing status is the most advantageous and which one of you should claim the children?
  • If only one of you is working or earning a lot more than the other, have you discussed a time frame and the feasibility for the other parent to begin generating more income?
  • Have you agreed to a date when support should commence?
  • Have you considered additional expenses such as; private school, child care costs, medical expenses, extra-curricular activities etc.?
  • Is the amount that you are agreeing to realistic and sustainable?

The Spousal Support Checklist:

The same software that calculates child support will also generate a Spousal Support amount. That amount is a good baseline; however, if a judge makes a spousal support order, he/she has to consider about 12 other factors besides the parties’ incomes. So should you when you and your spouse discuss spousal support. These factors are best determined with the help of experienced evaluators such as a Mediator, Lawyer, CPA, Forensic Accountant and/or Job Evaluator. Here is the list of factors, an excerpt from Family Law Code, to be considered when determining spousal support:

Family Code §4320:
In ordering spousal support under this part, the court shall consider 
all of the following circumstances:
  (a) The extent to which the earning capacity of each party is 
    sufficient to maintain the standard of living established during 
    the marriage, taking into account all of the following:
    (1) The marketable skills of the supported party; the job market 
      for those skills; the time and expenses required for the 
      supported party to acquire the appropriate education or training 
      to develop those skills; and the possible need for retraining or 
      education to acquire other, more marketable skills or employment.
    (2) The extent to which the supported party’s present or future 
      earning capacity is impaired by periods of unemployment incurred 
      during the marriage to permit the supported party to devote time 
      to domestic duties.
  (b) The extent to which the supported party contributed to the 
    attainment of an education, training, a career position, or a 
    license by the supporting party.
  (c) The ability to pay of the supporting party, taking into account 
    the supporting party’s earning capacity, earned and unearned income,
    assets, and standard of living.
  (d) The needs of each party based on the standard of living 
    established during the marriage.
  (e) The obligations and assets, including the separate property, of 
    each party.
  (f) The duration of the marriage.
  (g) The ability of the supported party to engage in gainful employment
    without unduly interfering with the interests of dependent children 
    in the custody of the party.
  (h) The age and health of the parties, including, but not limited to, 
    consideration of emotional distress resulting from domestic violence
    perpetrated against the supported party by the supporting party 
    where the court finds documented evidence of a history of domestic 
    violence, as defined in Section 6211, against the supported party by
    the supporting party.
  (i) The immediate and specific tax consequences to each party.
  (j) The balance of the hardships to each party.
  (k) The goal that the supported party shall be self-supporting within 
    a reasonable period of time.
Except in the case of a marriage of long duration as described in 
Section 4336, a “reasonable period of time” for purposes of this section
generally shall be one-half the length of the marriage. However, nothing
in this section is intended to limit the court’s discretion to order 
support for a greater or lesser length of time, based on any of the 
other factors listed in this section, Section 4336, and the 
circumstances of the parties.
  (l) Any other factors the court determines are just and equitable.

Family Matters Mediators also suggest that a comparison of the cost of living be considered if one parent moves to a much less expensive region than Orange County, California.

How long should spousal support last? The parties can set any term by agreement, but when decided by a judge, the duration will be set by considering the factors above. Unless agreed otherwise in writing, spousal support does not automatically end with cohabitation of the recipient with a new partner, (termination or reduction of spousal support has to be requested by the payor), but it automatically ends upon remarriage of the recipient or the death of either spouse. To get support beyond the life of the payor, you can make life insurance part of the support agreement.

In a Marital Settlement Agreement or Stipulated Judgment, you can custom-tailor the spousal support amount and duration according to your needs and ability to pay. You can specify that the support amount cannot be modified, or shall be modified under certain circumstances, or shall gradually increase or decrease; you can specify the duration of support, set an end date, or specify under which circumstances it should end. With a written agreement, you can budget your lives because you know what to expect.