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How Spousal Support and Child Support Interact in California

Dependent children add an additional layer of complexity to the divorce process. If you and your co-parent are getting divorced, you can’t just think about yourselves. California law mandates that you put your kids’ best interests first.

That means that many divorcing parents are subject to both child support and spousal support orders. While these orders both require one party to financially provide for the other after a divorce, that is where the similarities end. Here’s what you need to know about these orders and how they interact under California law.

Child Support vs. Spousal Support: Differences Under California Law

The fundamental difference between spousal and child support is whether it’s obligatory. Both types of orders ensure that splitting spouses live up to their responsibilities to provide for each other and their children. However, the obligations to your kids are more strongly protected under the California Family Code than ex-spouses’ responsibilities to each other.

Child support is legally required for separated parents in California. Regardless of gender or the amount of time spent with the kids, the state considers both parents equally responsible for providing for their children. When parents don’t live together, the courts use child support orders to ensure that both parents contribute equally to raising the kids. There is a strict, in-depth calculation used to determine how much money should be paid if parents can’t agree on an amount.

Because parents have a legal responsibility to care for their children, these orders are mandatory and can’t be waived entirely. The money is not intended for them. Instead, it is ordered to help lower-income parents give their kids the same standard of living they experience as their other parents.

In contrast, spousal support, also known as alimony, is not mandatory. While the right to request alimony in the dissolution of marriage is protected by state law, it is significantly less structured. Couples can choose to waive the right to alimony entirely in prenuptial and postnuptial agreements or during the divorce settlement process. If they take the matter before the court, there is no calculation for judges to use to determine how much to order. Instead, judges have the discretion to decide if and how much to award based on the couple’s financial situation, lifestyle, and needs.

Does California Consider Support Orders Separately?

While child and spousal support are separate orders, they impact each other. If alimony has been requested, the court will typically wait until after child custody and support has been awarded to consider the matter. California Family Code Section 4320 requires judges to consider “the ability of the supported party to engage in gainful employment without unduly interfering with the interests of dependent children in the custody of the party” when determining alimony.

This section clarifies that if the lower-income spouse has partial or full custody of the children, their need for alimony may be increased. The assumption is that caring for the kids may prevent the parent from working or pursuing vocational training as much as they otherwise would. 

Furthermore, Section 4326 states that “the termination of child support […] constitutes a change of circumstances that may be the basis for a request by either party for modification of spousal support.” In other words, ending child support can be grounds for you or your ex-spouse to request changes to the alimony order.

How to Ensure Your Support Orders Fit Your Needs

If both types of orders are on the table in your divorce, you’re likely concerned about how they will affect your finances. These three tactics help ensure that court-ordered payments fit your financial needs while putting your kids’ best interests first.

Pursue a Settlement

If you and your spouse remain amicable, you can negotiate both orders. While child support payments can’t be waived, you can work with your co-parent to create an agreement detailing higher or lower amounts. As long as the agreement is well-written and you both consent to it in full knowledge of your rights, the court will enforce it.

In addition, alimony is entirely negotiable. You and your spouse can set any terms you want for spousal support, including waiving it altogether. This makes negotiating a settlement the most effective way to produce divorce orders that satisfy both of you.

Prepare Thorough Financial Disclosures

If a settlement isn’t possible, you’ll need to litigate one or both orders. The judge will be responsible for determining the amount to order based on your financial situation. You can prepare for these hearings by providing a thorough, in-depth financial disclosure about all your assets and debts. 

These disclosures ensure the judge has all the information necessary to make informed decisions. Failing to provide a comprehensive disclosure can lead to delays or incorrect orders, potentially damaging your finances for months or years to come. Furthermore, purposefully leaving out assets or debts is against the law and may lead to rulings against you. Honesty is in your best interest, both legally and financially.

Work With the Experienced Attorneys at Kaspar & Lugay, LLP

Both child and spousal support disputes require thorough and careful preparation if you want the best possible outcome. If these orders are likely to come up in your split, you should discuss your case with expert divorce lawyers like the team at Kaspar & Lugay, LLP. 

Our qualified attorneys have decades of experience helping clients navigate the complexities of alimony and child support. We will guide you through the process and help you accomplish the best possible outcome in your divorce. Schedule your consultation today by calling 415-789-5881 or messaging us online to discuss your case and learn more about how we can help you.