Determining Child Support and Spousal Support

When you separate, the court sets the amount of financial assistance to be paid to a spouse in need by the other spouse. The objective is to maintain the family’s standard of living to the extent possible until the divorce, sometimes referred to as preserving the status quo while the case is pending. Support orders are in nearly every case based on court-approved schedules or guidelines.

The available income limits the amount the court can order. Trying to maintain two households on the income previously needed for one often means there’s not enough money to pay all the bills. The objective of maintaining the established standard of living is then transformed into concerns about food and shelter.

Support schedules are used to quickly and objectively determine the amount to be paid. The results are highly predictable, because the court applies the schedule to your facts, thus encouraging couples to figure out support based on the schedules without going to court.

The amount of the support usually makes everyone unhappy, whether they are paying or receiving. In a situation where most of the income is due to the efforts of one spouse and the other spouse has the children, the court may appear oblivious to the hardship suffered by the one paying support. The focus of the schedule is on the need, especially of children, for support. This may result in the parent paying support unable to meet basic needs, yet the custodial parent and children may feel, with good reason, they don’t get enough on which to live.

If you are the breadwinner, don’t add to the burden you’ll shoulder alone for the coming months or years. Plan ahead: be more cautious than ever about major new purchases. Refuse to add to family debt for every new appliance that comes along. At least be subtle, so it appears to be no more than your financial prudence. Pass up the larger home with larger payments, private schooling for the children, new or additional automobiles and other discretionary expenditures that increase debt.

Save yourself from a situation in which you pay both support and installment payments which have been run up. Avoid new loans: Pay off bills as far in advance of separation as possible. Setting up the family budget favorably (actually sensibly) will help meet cash needs during the divorce process and lower the permanent support orders which usually consider all the facts.

Miserly husbands who have always doled out a meager household allowance to the wife are an extreme case. For example, Carol was forced to run their household on the pittance Donald gave her after putting as much money back into his business as possible. Their household furnishings were long overdue for replacement. It seems appropriate that Donald ended up with the old furniture, although Carol did have to scrimp by on a low temporary support order for a while.

Gabe was putting all the money he could into his retirement plans and annuities. He gave Fran enough for spending money and expected her to run the house with it. Fran got a reasonable temporary support order and, of course, half of the substantial retirement plans.

If you foresee that you will need support as a result of a divorce, examine your existing situation to ensure that you arenít neglecting valid needs. The checking account and other records will show average monthly amounts spent on food, housing, clothing and necessities. Make some changes if expenses do not reflect the family’s true needs, which could be met out of existing income. Don’t get stuck with a low support order because your spouse proves it takes little to maintain the household. You’ll have the burden of proving that more is needed.

You and your attorney should review the temporary support schedules well in advance to be prepared for the amount the court is likely to order. While they provide a quick and uniform answer, the result is extremely impersonal since generally only net income is considered and expenses ignored unless in certain special categories. "Net income" is defined as gross income less mandatory deductions for items such as taxes and retirement. The result is about the same as adding excess withholding for taxes and voluntary deductions to take-home pay. Adjustments to the family budget will change the amount of temporary support if the court will allow you to show the full amount is not needed, or is not enough, due to special circumstances.