California Court Discusses the Calculation of Pendente Lite Spousal Support

In many marriages, one spouse’s salary far exceeds the other’s. If a couple with disparate income divorces, it is not uncommon for the lesser earning spouse to seek some form of spousal support while the divorce is pending. If a court finds the circumstances warrant a temporary support award, it will typically examine the obligor spouse’s most recent income to arrive at the amount of support owed. That is not always an appropriate means of calculating alimony, however, as demonstrated in an opinion recently issued by a California court in a divorce action. If you intend to seek a divorce, it is prudent to meet with a knowledgeable San Diego divorce attorney to discuss how ending your marriage may affect you financially.

The Underlying Facts

It is reported that in 2018, the wife filed for divorce after close to 35 years of marriage. The couple had no minor children at that time. A short time later, the wife filed a request for an order seeking pendente lite spousal support. The court ultimately granted the wife ongoing pendente lite spousal support of over $31,000 per month. It based the support obligation on the husband’s income for the most recent historical year. The husband filed a motion for reconsideration, arguing that as his income fluctuated drastically from year to year, the trial court erred in solely analyzing his income from the prior year to determine the support obligation.

Calculating Pendente Lite Spousal Support

The Court of Appeal agreed with the husband and ruled that the trial court abused its discretion in calculating his prospective income on an unrepresentative sample period. The Court explained that while a dissolution of marriage action is pending, the court may order either spouse to pay any amount it deems necessary to support the other spouse. Temporary support is based on both the obligor spouse’s ability to pay and the supported spouse’s needs. While permanent support is determined by the financial situation of the parties after a dissolution, temporary support is used to maintain the standard of living as close as possible to the status quo while the trial is pending.

The courts are not constrained by statutory guidelines in determining a temporary spousal support amount. Normally, however, a review of the obligor’s income over the most recent twelve-month period is sufficient to forecast what they are able to pay, as most people’s earnings do not fluctuate from year to year. In matters like the subject case in which the obligor’s income fluctuates significantly, however, the court has a duty to determine what it considers a representative time period for calculating the obligor’s income and issue a support award based on that time period. Based on the foregoing, the Court of Appeal reversed the trial court ruling and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Consult a Seasoned California Family Law Attorney

It often takes years to finalize a divorce, and California courts frequently order one spouse to pay the other support during the pendency of the case. If you want to end your marriage, it is smart to consult a lawyer to discuss your rights and potential obligations. The seasoned San Diego family law attorneys of Doppelt and Forney APLC are adept at handling complex spousal support issues, and if you hire us, we will fight to help you seek a just result. We have an office in San Diego, and we regularly represent people in divorce matters in cities throughout San Diego County. You can contact us via our online form or by calling 800-769-4748 to set up a confidential and free meeting.




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