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Introduction to Spousal Support

A person has the legal responsibility to support his or her former spouse. The court has the power to order the payment of spousal support in any amount it deems just and reasonable.

When you apply the law to the facts, the amount of spousal support is based upon factors such as earning capacity, need, property, whether there is a need to care for children, standard of living and the length of the marriage. In rare cases, notorious amounts of support are paid so a former spouse can continue the lifestyle enjoyed during the marriage.

Remember that a spousal support guideline exists, calculated in a manner similar to the mandatory child support formula/schedule. Your judge is given discretion in the amount of spousal support that may be awarded because this guideline is not mandatory. However, exercising this discretion in a typical case is more a process of making adjustments to the guideline figure rather than starting from scratch. Consider the spousal support guideline, used for temporary support, as the court’s starting point for calculating permanent spousal support.

Support may range from a low monthly payment for a year designed to help someone back on his or her feet, up to a lifetime of payments fully supporting a low-earning recipient. Spousal support is tax deductible to the payor and taxable to the recipient, if there is a written court order that satisfies rigid IRS prerequisites.

The most important factor in determining the duration of spousal support is the length of the marriage. A short marriage implies a short period of spousal support, if any. Letís be real: What could have happened in two or three years that entitles a person to long-term spousal support? If the person was self supporting before, that person should still be able to care for him- or herself. On the other hand, support for a transition period may be necessary and is entirely understandable if a career was interrupted because of the marriage.

A person who was not self-supporting before marriage should not be dumped on the welfare rolls, even after a short marriage. However, it isn’t fair to give him or her a private welfare program from a former spouse. A short period of support, again to provide an opportunity to enter the work force, is fair.