How Spousal Support Is Calculated

     One of the most common issues in a divorce case in California is Spousal Support. This can cause considerable confusion to parties who do not fully understand what factors the Court uses in making a support order.

     Simply put, Spousal Support is a payment from the higher income spouse to the lower income spouse to maintain that person at the marital standard of living.

     California calculates Temporary Spousal Support using a computer guideline formula that is determined by the State Legislature and adopted into the Family Code. The basic formula determines 40% of the net income of the high wage earner and then subtracts 50% of the net income of the low wage earner, with some adjustments to each person’s figures for certain deductions such as health insurance costs, mandatory retirement contributions and union dues. These calculations are done with a special computer program used by Attorneys and the Courts.

     The figure that results is designed to maintain each spouse at something close to the marital standard of living while the case is pending. The formula is not designed to result in an amount that will exactly equal the parties’ standard of living. The purpose of the Temporary Spousal Support order is simply to provide a moderate living to each party while the case is proceeding.

     The final Spousal Support order is made at the end of the case. This is typically done at the final settlement meeting or if necessary, at a Trial. The Court is not allowed to use the Temporary Support calculation when setting the final support order. Instead, the Court must balance a wide array of factors such as age, education, earning history and health of the parties in making a support order


When a couple getting a divorce has children under the age of 18, the Court must make orders regarding which parent has custody of the children. The traditional arrangement for many decades is for one parent to have the primary custody and the other parent to have specific times for visitation with the kids.

This custody arrangement worked fine in the past when typically one parent worked and the other parent stayed home to be a full time parent. The Courts would tend to order that the parent who stayed at home with the children would be given custody in order to minimize any disruption in their lives.

The traditional family arrangement is no longer common in a large number of families today. More often than not, both parents work full time jobs.

This economic reality has resulted in a significant increase in the number of cases where the parents share equal custody of the children. The Court will often set up a custody schedule where the parents will frequently exchange the children between their homes.

The best way to obtain a joint custody order is to go to court with a fully thought out custody proposal for either the custody mediator or the Judge. This proposal should take into account each parent's work schedule, where the children go to school and how far each parent's home is from the other parent's home.

The best proposals will be crafted so that the transfer of the children is a convenient as possible for both parents. One common plan is for one parent to drop the kids off at school in the morning and the other begins their parenting time after school. This is especially helpful for older kids who may have a lot of home work or after school sports. A Judge is likely to be

agreeable to this proposal if it results in the children spending as little time as possible in cars during exchanges.

The ideal situation would be for each parent to attempt to reside as close as possible to each others home after the divorce. While this is not always realistic, it will make the exchanges much easier. Older children may even want to ride their bikes between each parent's house.

More parents than ever are able to spend equal amounts of time with their children after a divorce. A little common sense planning and negotiating between parents will only continue this excellent trend.


Couples going through a divorce or legal separation action in California will frequently have to deal with the issue of dividing the community property interest in one or both spouses work related pension plans. These plans are also often referred to as Defined Benefit Plans.

A pension plan is one where the employee will receive a set monthly payment after retirement for the rest of his or her life. The community will have an interest in the retirement benefits that were earned during the marriage.

An employee's benefit is based on several factors. These factors are usually, the age at retirement, the amount of years employed and the employee's last salary.

The important thing to keep in mind is the fact that these pension payments will be paid for the rest of the employee's life.

The Court must determine the value of the pension at the time of the divorce. This will usually require that the calculations performed by an expert know as a Forensic Actuary. The calculations will show what the present value of the pension is based on the length of the marriage, the current salary of the employee spouse and their remaining life expectancy.

When the parties know the value of the pension, they can agree to divide other assets so that all their marital property is equally divided.

The more common alternative, is for the Community Property pension to be equally divided. Each spouse will be entitled to receive one half of the community value in monthly payments upon the retirement of the employee spouse. This is usually done with a special document called a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO).

A QDRO simply orders the employee spouse's pension plan to split the value of the pension earned during the marriage and to create two plans. The first will be the plan for the employees spouse. The second benefit will be for the employee's former spouse.

It is very important that each spouse protects their pension rights by a property prepared QDRO. This document must be signed by the Court and provided to the Pension Plan.

Please make sure to consult with an experienced Family Law Attorney if you have any questions about dividing a pension in a divorce.

Divorce Holiday Issues

It is hard to believe, but the holidays will soon be upon us. This time of year will unfortunately pose numerous challenges for families going through a divorce and dealing with the holidays for the first time.  Parents will want to make sure that they have adequate time with their children during the holidays.

     The most important concept to keep in mind is: start early. It is never too soon to speak with the other parent or your Attorney about proposing a holiday schedule. This is vastly preferable to waiting until the last minute and requesting an emergency Court Order the day before Christmas Eve.

     Families should communicate and make sure that each side is clear about where the children will be on certain dates. This is extremely important if one parent needs to make major travel arrangements during the holidays. Air travel during this time of year is very expensive. It is always best to purchase them as far in advance as possible. Many families will have holiday plans with other relatives who will be counting on visiting with the children. No child wants his or her Grandparent upset because their parents can’t agree on a schedule.

     The best advice is for parents to put their holiday schedule in writing. That way there is no confusion as to the custody arrangement. This schedule can easily be circulated around a family by email. The parents can also easily have this agreement converted into a court order. There are now special web sites for divorced families where holiday schedules can be arranged.

     Another piece of advice is for parents to ask their extended relatives to be understanding and supportive when making holiday plans. Many families will have to make small changes in their holiday schedules depending on one family member’s child custody order. This is usually a reasonable request. No Grandparent is going to object to having a holiday dinner a day earlier or later as long as their grand kids are able to spend the time with them.