The Basics of Child & Spousal Support


In concept, Child and Temporary Spousal Support should be easy to determine, because they are both determined by formula.  In practice, however, it can be very challenging to determine the proper entries for the support formulas. 

This is especially true when parties are self employed, have deferred compensation, or if their income various over time.   There are specific rules for how these issues are handled, and going to a hearing without knowledge of those rules will put a party at a substantial risk of obtaining  a poor outcome from that hearing.

Even parties paid via W-2 income can be complicated, as contributions to retirement, to a Health Savings Account, payment of a mortgage, for numerous other factors can substantially change the support calculations.

Child Support has an additional challenge, as there are mandatory add-on expenses (such as child care), and discretionary add-ons (such as extracurricular expenses).  These can, at times, exceed the base support amounts. 

While the Court is generally required to follow guideline calculations, in both Child and Temporary Spousal Support the court can deviate from the guideline calculations, if a good reason exists for doing so.  

Permanent Spousal Support is different.  There is no formula the parties can rely on to determine what an appropriate amount of support should be.  Instead, the Court must apply the factors outlined in Family Code section 4320

One of the largest factors in any 4320 analysis is the Marital Standard of Living (MSOL).  This tries to answer how the parties lived during the marriage and uses that as measure of whether or not a party needs support to remain at that level. 

Other factors include: 

  • The extent to which the supported spouse contributed to the education, training, career or license of the supporting spouse
  • The ability of the supporting spouse to pay spousal support
  • The obligations and assets of each spouse
  • The duration of the marriage
  • Whether the supported party can work without causing detriment to dependent children in their custody
  • The age and health of each spouse
  • Documented evidence of a history of domestic violence
  • Tax consequences
  • Hardships on each party
  • The goal is that the supported party will become self-supporting within a reasonable period of time. 
  • Criminal conviction of an abusive spouse
  • Any other factors the court determines are just and equitable


Temporary vs. Permanent Spousal Support

Temporary support (sometimes called Pendente Lite) is not temporary, and Permanent support may not be permanent.  The correct way to think about them is that “Temporary” support is any support ordered before Judgment is entered, and “Permanent Support” is anything ordered after the entry of Judgment. 

The reason that they are calculated differently, is that they have different purposes under the law.  Temporary support is to maintain the financial status of the parties pending Judgment.  Permanent Support is to help a party live closer to the marital standard of living if they are not able to do so with their own earnings. 

When Does Child Support End?

Generally, child support is payable until the child is 18 AND has graduated high school.  If the child has not graduated high school, then child support ends at 19. 

This termination is an operation of law. 

In rare circumstances, an adult child may be eligible for child support, if they are unable to support themselves, usually due to disability of some sort.

When Does Spousal Support End?

For short-duration marriages (less than 10 years), the presumption is that support will last 1/2 the length of the marriage.

For permanent support, there is no such presumption.  The Court is prohibited from initially setting a termination of permanent support in long-term marriages, but may terminate permanent support at some time in the future.  

Is Support Taxable?

Child support is not taxable to the recipient. 

Spousal support is not taxable to the recipient for federal taxes, but is taxable for the purpose of state taxes.

Spousal Support orders made prior to 2019 were often taxable to the recipient.  Modification of those orders may result in a change of taxability.