Financial Orders: Child and Spousal Support
Unfortunately, expenses go up when a couple gets divorced, and this often places an additional burden on top of the emotional strain. Not only do you each have individual expenses to pay, but you may also have to pay your share of whatever shared expenses that remain. Financial orders help to even out this burden by distributing the money according to each of your needs and resources.
In this article:
- What are the types of support?
- Do I have to report any of this on my taxes?
- How do we determine the amounts that are owed?
- How long does support last?
- Are there any exceptions?
- What if we can't agree on these numbers?
One type of financial order is spousal support (sometimes colloquially referred to as “alimony”), which requires one spouse (we’ll call them spouse #1) to provide money to the other spouse (we’ll call them spouse #2) so spouse #2 can cover their necessary living expenses. Depending on the circumstances of your case, if you are having trouble paying your bills and your spouse is in a better financial position than you, you can request that your spouse pay you a certain amount of money each month to help you out in this transition phase. Spousal support that is paid during your divorce before the final Judgment is entered is called "temporary spousal support".
Another type of order is commonly known as “child support” and it requires spouse #1 to provide money to spouse #2 to help pay for spouse #2’s portion of the necessary child-related expenses. Child support is generally based on timeshare, which you can talk about it more in detail while you are working on a parenting plan. Usually, this amount is expected to cover day-to-day costs; some types of expenses are shared separately by the parties, and are not expected to be paid for from child support. You can find more information on expenses and reimbursements here.
Spousal support is usually taxable as income to the recipient and deductible to the payor as an expense. Child support, on the other hand, is not. It is possible to combine spousal support and child support into one payment, which is known as “family support.” By having this one payment, you may be able to have the entire amount be considered taxable/deductible.
It is important to note that there are some exceptions to the taxibility of spousal support: usually there needs to be a formal court order in place. In addition, if you and your spouse file your taxes jointly for any year in which you're paying (or receiving) support, the taxability may not make a difference (unless you informally factor it into how you divide the refund or tax debt resulting from filing). Your filing status, and the taxability of support, will both have an affect on "guideline" support.
There is no easy way to determine the exact amount of spousal support owed. Many people simply try to determine how much they need to cover their monthly expenses and, if they come up short, ask for an amount in support that will cover the gap. However, people who prefer to have a more objective tool use a calculator that the Courts use to determine "guideline" temporary spousal support, which you can access here. Although this calculator is primarily used for child support, you may indicate at the bottom that you would like temporary spousal support (which is support paid while your divorce is pending) calculated as well. It is important to note that spousal support usually changes the amount of child support, so if you do use this calculator make sure to include them both together.
For spousal support after you receive your divorce judgment, you cannot use the calculator. Instead, you will need to refer to the factors included in the link above. This is a subjective set of guidelines that is determined by things like the length of the marriage, the work history of both spouses, the earning potential of both spouses (which may be different than the spouse's actual earnings), the standard of living during marriage, and the extent to which one spouse made sacrifices to his or her career to help support the family. It also includes any history of domestic violence: usually the court will not order an abused spouse to pay spousal support to the other.
Child support, on the other hand, is an objective mathematical formula based on the parties' earnings, deductions, number of children and the approximate percentage of time the child spends with each parent. You can read more about child support here.
Spousal support: The rule of thumb with spousal support is that short-term marriages of less than 10 years have spousal support payable for 1/2 the length of the marriage (the time between the date of marriage and the date of separation). Long-term marriages of over 10 years is more complicated: often there will be no date set for support to "irrevocably terminate" (meaning after this date neither spouse can ask for any support for any reason). This doesn't necessarily mean that someone will be ordered to pay spousal support until the end of time; often parties will "reserve" support, which means neither party pays spousal support now, but one of you can ask the court for spousal support in the future if their financial circumstances change. Typically, spousal support would end if the spouse receiving support re-marries or moves in with a romantic partner.
Child support: Usually child support ends on the first to occur of the following: a) the child turns 18 and is no longer a full-time high school student; b) the child turns 19 (whether or not he or she is still in high school). If you have more than one child and one of those events happens with the older child, child support reduces – however, the legal standard does not just divide child support by the number of children (i.e., if you have two children and the older child turns 18 and is no longer in high school, the amount of child support is not simply cut in half). Usually, the child support amounts allotted to the younger child(ren) is higher than the older child(ren). The guideline calculation generated by the support calculator will tell you how much child support reduces when one of the children no longer qualifies.
If you and your spouse agree to something other than the support amounts or length of support as determined by these factors, usually the court will allow you to make those agreements into orders, or include them in your final settlement agreement or Judgment. It is important to note, however, that the court has the ability to ask you to give them reasons why support should deviate from these standards. There are other extraordinary circumstances in which the court might deviate from the guidelines listed above – if you think this applies to you, you may want to discuss them with an attorney to figure out whether your argument has a basis in the law.
Many people are able to reach an agreement on the amounts for the financial orders. In this case, then temporary orders will simply serve to confirm those agreements in writing and to be legally binding when filed with the Court. However, if you cannot agree, then it is possible to make an official request to the Court and have a Judge decide. Please let us know if you would like to consider requesting temporary orders from the court, and we can connect you with an attorney to assist you in drafting the paperwork.