Does It Matter Who Files for Divorce First in California?

Ending a marriage can be very difficult, both emotionally and legally. Spousal support is an issue for both the higher-earning and lower-earning spouses in a marriage. Understanding everything that goes into calculating spousal support in California is important so everyone is satisfied with the agreement.

What Is Spousal Support?

Spousal support is court-ordered payments from one spouse to another during or following their divorce. In California, spousal support is gender neutral. If spousal support is deemed appropriate, the higher-earning spouse pays the spouse who earns less regardless of gender. Many other factors determine spousal support for each couple’s unique situation. Spousal support is intended to help the spouse who earns less maintain their pre-divorce standard of living, especially if the spouse who earns less took care of the household and put their career on hold for the marriage. There are multiple types of spousal support in California:

  • Temporary spousal support
  • Permanent spousal support

Temporary Spousal Support

Temporary spousal support is intended to help the spouse who earns less maintain the standard of living they were accustomed to during their marriage while undergoing divorce proceedings. Courts treat temporary spousal support differently than permanent spousal support. Anyone may be eligible for temporary spousal support, regardless of the length of their marriage. The judge is interested in maintaining the status quo for both partners during the divorce process. Temporary spousal support payments end when the divorce is finalized. When the divorce is finalized, longer-term spousal support payments may or may not be ordered by the court.

Permanent Spousal Support

Permanent spousal support begins when the divorce is finalized. Like temporary spousal support, permanent spousal support helps the spouse who earns less maintain the standard of living they were used to before the divorce. However, more factors determine the amount and duration of permanent spousal support. Although it is called permanent spousal support in California, the length of time of these longer-term spousal support payments varies based on each couple’s unique circumstances.

How Does California Calculate Temporary Spousal Support?

The common temporary spousal support guideline in California is called a Santa Clara temporary maintenance formula. This formula sets spousal support at about 40% of the net monthly income of the spouse who earns more, reduced by 50% of the net monthly income of the spouse who earns less. However, every situation is different, and this informal guideline may be modified at the judge’s discretion when allocating temporary spousal support.

How Is Permanent Spousal Support Determined in California?

Both spouses might come to an agreement between themselves concerning spousal support. If that’s the case, the judge will order the agreed-upon amount of spousal support.

However, long-term spousal support can be highly contested in many divorces. When a judge is determining appropriate permanent spousal support in California, there’s no formula, but many factors go into the decision, including:

  • Duration of the marriage
  • Age of each spouse
  • The health of each spouse
  • Child custody arrangements, if any
  • The income of each spouse
  • The future earning ability of each spouse
  • Each spouse’s debts and assets
  • Any allegations of domestic violence
  • Any other factor the court deems relevant

What Is Considered Income When Determining Spousal Support in California?

Income is a major factor when determining spousal support in California. Of course, wages or salary are considered income, but bonuses, rents, disability benefits, unemployment benefits, and retirement income are also considered income. Determining income can be a little more complicated if one spouse is self-employed. Typically, an attorney or other professional must review the self-employed spouse’s income and business expenses to determine net income.

When determining spousal support, net income is used. Any mandatory retirement contributions, health insurance premiums, union dues, and child support payments will be subtracted from this monthly net income when determining spousal support.

How Is the Length of Time for Spousal Support Calculated in California?

Despite the legal term California uses to refer to long-term spousal support, long-term spousal support is rarely actually permanent. However, a reasonable amount of time looks very different for each couple’s situation. For marriages lasting less than 10 years, a reasonable amount of time is typically considered half the time the marriage lasted. For example, if a couple’s marriage lasted eight years, then spousal support would be awarded for four years. Of course, this is merely a guideline, and that timeline may be extended or reduced.

Marriages lasting more than a decade are considered long-term marriages, and there isn’t a set guideline for how long spousal support payments should last. Rather, the judge takes into consideration each couple’s unique circumstances.

Spousal support payments may end when the higher-earning spouse reaches age 65 and retires. Spousal support also ends when the spouse who earns less remarries, enters a domestic partnership, or dies.


Q: What Is the Average Spousal Support Payment in California?

A: As a general guide, spousal support payments are sometimes calculated by taking 40% of the higher-earning spouse’s net monthly income and subtracting 50% of the income of the spouse who earns less. However, many other factors are taken into account.

Q: Is Spousal Support Mandatory in California?

A: Spousal support is not mandatory in California. Actually, in the majority of divorces in California, spousal support is not ordered by the judge. Both parties may also mutually agree to waive spousal support. Every couple’s situation is different, and many factors determine whether spousal support should be ordered and, if so, how much.

Q: Is Spousal Support Based on Gross or Net Income in California?

A: In California, spousal support is based on net income. However, it’s a little more complicated than that. If applicable, any health insurance premiums, mandatory union dues, and child support payments are subtracted from net income before spousal support payments are calculated.

Q: How Long Does Spousal Support in California Last?

A: There is no hard and fast rule on how long spousal support should last in California. For marriages lasting less than 10 years, spousal support is typically ordered for up to half the length of the marriage. However, if the marriage lasted less than a decade, it’s considered a long-term marriage, and there isn’t a set guideline for how long spousal support payments last.

Contact McCunn Law Today

The right divorce attorney is essential to understanding and navigating spousal support in California. McCunn law is a group of experienced attorneys ready to help you through the divorce process. Whether you are looking to calculate, modify, or end spousal support payments, McCunn Law can help. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.