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Family Law 101: Support

Spousal Support

Formerly referred to as alimony, spousal support is the award of monthly payments by one spouse to another. A court may order spousal support after divorce is finalized. For marriages lasting less than ten years, courts typically award support for half the marriage's length. For unions of ten years or more, courts may award permanent alimony, until the spouse receiving the support remarries or until the death of either of spouse. There is a developing trend against awarding lifelong spousal support awards, even in marriages of long duration. Today, courts expect almost all parties to eventually become self-supporting.

When calculating the amount of support, courts consider the factors enumerated in Section 4320 of California Family Code. Among such factors, courts consider the following for each party: income and earnings, earning capacity, age and health, obligations and assets, and needs (based on the standard of living established during the marriage).

Child Support

Child support is calculated using a complex formula that considers each parent's income, tax deductions, and amount of time spent with the child (Fam. Code § 4050). A court will decide on a case-by-case basis how much support one parent is required to pay based on mandatory guideline calculations.


Child support may be ordered to cover childcare expenses, medical and dental expenses, summer camps, or private schools. Child support may be modified until it terminates when the child is 18 (or 19 if the child is still a high school student). To request a modification, one party must demonstrate “changed circumstances.” Changed circumstances include a change in the income of either party, a change in visitation time, or special needs of the child.