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. Continue reading