What is Spousal/Partner Support?

In California, when a couple legally separates or divorces, the court may order one spouse or domestic partner to help pay for the support of the other spouse or domestic partner. This is called “spousal support” for married couples and “partner support” in domestic partnerships. If one of the parties files a request, the judge may order “temporary” spousal/partner support during the case. Spousal/partner support may also be ordered when the case becomes final with the entry of the judgment. Spousal/partner support orders contained in judgments are known as “permanent” orders although they may be modified by the court after a request for modification is filed by one of the parties.

Seeking "Temporary" Spousal/Partner Support

There must be an existing court case in order for spousal/partner support to be legally established. A spouse or domestic partner can ask the judge to make a spousal/partner support order as part of a divorce, legal separation, or domestic violence case. In a divorce case, a spouse or domestic partner may ask for temporary spousal/partner support by filing a Request for Order (Form FL-300) and other mandatory forms such as the Income and Expense Declaration (Form FL-150). In most instances, the parties will attend a court hearing where the judge will consider the facts of the case and make orders regarding temporary spousal/partner support.  In a domestic violence case, a request for spousal/partner support may be included as part of the Request for Domestic Violence Restraining Order (Form DV-100).

Seeking "Permanent" Spousal/Partner Support

Permanent spousal/partner support orders are contained in the final judgment which resolves the case. The parties may agree to the amount of monthly spousal/partner support payments or the judge will consider the facts of the case and make orders regarding permanent spousal/partner support.

Under California law, the judge must consider the following factors (found in California Family Code Section 4320) when making a permanent spousal/partner support order:

  • How long the couple has been married or in a domestic partnership
  • The age and health of each spouse or partner
  • How much money each can earn on his or her own
  • How many expenses each spouse or partner has
  • What debts and what property each person has
  • What each person needs to “maintain the standard of living established during the marriage
  • Whether having a job would make it too hard to take care of the child(ren)
  • Whether one spouse or domestic partner helped the other get an education, training, career, or professional license
  • Whether one spouse’s, or domestic partner’s, career was affected by unemployment, or by taking care of the children or home
  • The tax impact of spousal support (note: federal and state tax laws were not changed to recognize domestic partnerships)
  • Whether there was domestic violence in the marriage or domestic partnership

The spouse or domestic partner seeking permanent spousal/partner support may provide the judge with an assessment of each factor by completing the FL-157 Spousal or Partner Support Declaration Attachment.

If the marriage lasted less than 10 years (from the date of marriage to the date of separation), it is unlikely that a judge will order permanent spousal support for longer than one half the length of the marriage. After a permanent spousal/partner support order is made, either party may return to court by filing a Request for Order (Form FL-300) and other mandatory forms to request a modification of the amount of support or a termination of the support.

Here’s more information about Spousal/Partner Support.