What Is Temporary vs. Long-Term Spousal Support?

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If you have questions about spousal support, otherwise known as alimony, you’re not alone. Spousal support comes in two general types: temporary and long-term. When you go through a divorce in California, you or your ex-spouse may apply for one, or both. Spousal support is a written agreement or order to instill temporary or permanent payment from one spouse to another after separation, when plans for divorce have been made. Let’s look at these two basic types of support, how they are calculated, the differences between them, and when each is put into effect.

What Is Temporary Support?

Generally speaking, temporary spousal support is implemented to maintain the financial status quo during the actual process of divorce or legal annulment/separation. Long-term support, on the other hand, can be indefinite. For temporary support to be put into effect, each party must file an income and expense declaration to prove their financial situations. It is at the discretion of the court to determine what the financial status quo was prior to the time of separation. Guideline calculators are often used (but not required) by the courts to determine the amount awarded. These calculators factor in each spouse’s income, healthcare deductions, and expenses. This type of support is considered temporary because it is meant to end once more permanent, long-term support is awarded once the divorce is finalized.

What Is Long-Term Support?

Long-term support does not employ the use of a calculator in determining payment amounts. The courts instead consider a broader spectrum of factors, including the couple’s married standard of living, current separate income, earning capacity, ability to pay alimony, relative financial needs, assets, length of marriage, the needs of dependent children, the age and health of each spouse, any prior payments from one spouse to another towards education or training, and more. Because of its long-term nature, it is more all-encompassing.

Modification of Long-Term Support

Long-term support can be modified, and very rarely lasts forever. Long-term support for shorter marriages is often implemented for only half the length of the marriage. For marriages over 10 years, a judge will determine how much time is reasonable for the supported spouse to become self-sufficient after the marriage has ended. But the duration and amount of long-term support can be modified by request as long as “non-modifiable” verbiage is not contained within the initial agreement. You and your ex-spouse can agree to modify the amount, or either one of you can bring the issue to court by filing a motion for a material change of circumstances that would warrant such modification or termination. Some such circumstances might be loss of a job, a health issue, or any other circumstance that has decreased the paying spouse’s income through no fault of their own. Long-term support obligations also automatically terminate upon the death of the supported spouse.

Three Major Differences between Temporary and Long-Term Support

1. These two types of support fulfill different needs. Whereas temporary support is meant to support the status quo during a divorce case; long-term support is meant to support the standard of living experienced during the marriage after the divorce is final.

2. Guideline calculators for the support payment amount can only be used to determine a motion for temporary spousal support. They cannot be used in determining permanent spousal support, as many more factors must be taken into account to determine a fair judgment for long-term support.

3.  Permanent spousal support is not considered taxable income as long as each spouse files a separate tax return.

Temporary and long-term support are both applicable to the divorce process, but in very different ways. Different factors are taken into account, and modifications can often be made to long-term rulings as circumstances change in the years following the divorce. A spouse may be subject to one, both, or neither during the process, depending on the financial dependence of each spouse and the determination of the court.

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