Do you think your spousal support payment is too high? A few weeks ago, the San Diego Union Tribune and the Wall Street Journal ran articles about the never-ending divorce saga of San Diego County’s wealthiest couple, Charles and Linda Brandes. According to Forbes, Mr. Brandes is ranked number 269 on its 2010 list of the 400 Richest People in America with an estimated net worth of 1.5 billion. The San Diego Union Tribune reported that Mr. Brandes income is $16 million per month and he pays $500,000 per month in spousal support to Ms. Brandes.
Some of you may be wondering how a judge determines how much spousal support a person must pay his or her former spouse. Unlike child support, which is generally calculated by a mathematical formula, spousal support is determined by a consideration of factors set forth in California Family Code Section 4320. The trial judge must both recognize and apply each of these factors when setting spousal support.
Translated into understandable terms, the factors include: the income of each party; the marketable skills of the supported party; whether the supported spouse did not work so he or she could tend to domestic duties; whether the supported party contributed to the other party’s education, training, license or career position; the ability of the supporting party to pay spousal support; the needs of each party based on the how the parties lived during the marriage; the assets and debts of each party; length of marriage; whether the supported party can work without interfering with the interests of the children; the age and health of the parties; domestic violence between the parties; tax consequences; a balance of the hardships; whether the supported party can be self-supporting within a “reasonable period of time;” the criminal conviction of an abusive spouse; and any other factors the court determines are just and equitable. That last factor is a catch-all provision, meaning whatever else the judge finds relevant.
When there is an existing spousal support order and one party is requesting a modification of spousal support, there generally needs to be a material change of circumstances since the last order. The court is required to reconsider the same standards and criteria set forth in Family Code Section 4320 it considered in making the initial long-term order at the time of judgment and any subsequent modification order. Although a showing of changed circumstances is necessary to obtain the court’s consideration of a modification of spousal support, it does not ensure that a modification will be granted.
Links to the articles and codes sections mentions are located below.