One of the first hurdles to overcome in the beginning of any contentious divorce case is to determine how much support is owed from one spouse to another, if any. Many times, a dispute over the proper support amount lands the parties in court for a short hearing at the outset of the case. After a month or two of crunching numbers and producing financial information, the parties are typically relieved when they walk out of the courtroom just to have a number that they can count on to pay or receive each month. In addition, many times the parties reach an agreement regarding the amount of support on the courthouse steps and simply read their agreement on the record in front of the judge. Although neither party is usually satisfied with the amount of support, having certainty regarding monthly support provides both sides with a little stability.
The amount of support is usually the main focus in any support negotiation or hearing. However, often times the parties, attorneys, and judges forget to include details (or decide not to include details) regarding when the support payments are due each month. In a typical scenario the parties appear in court on a particular date during the month and receive a support order that is effective another date. On the first date of the following month, the supported spouse expects to get that first support check in the mail. After waiting a few days, the supported spouse may call his or her spouse or his or her attorney claiming that the paying spouse is “late” on payment. However, careful review of the support order is necessary to determine whether the paying spouse is late on his or her payment. Many times, the support order is silent on the due date of the monthly support payment.
An optimal order will state something like “Effective August 1st, 2014, and payable on the first of each month thereafter, Husband shall pay to Wife for her support and maintenance the sum of $2,000.00 per month”. Pursuant to the default family code provisions, absent a specific due date for support, the support payment is due on the last day of the month in which the support payment is to be paid. The paying spouse may be able to go over a month without paying support after the hearing which puts the supported spouse in a difficult financial position as bills become due.
In addition to waiting to the last minute to make support payments, some paying spouses argue that the support order does not become effective until a formal order is signed. Following most support hearings, the parties must agree upon and execute a formal order. However, this process can be delayed if the parties “disagree” on exactly what was ordered in court. Luckily, California courts have held that support orders become operative at the moment of pronouncement. This means that the support order is effective prior to the execution of a formal written order.