Thursday, 24 October 2013 00:00

Calculating Spousal Support

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According to news reports, Clint Eastwood’s wife of 17 years, Dina Eastwood, has filed for divorce.  Ms. Eastwood is seeking spousal support and full custody of their 16 year old daughter.

If you or someone you know is going through the divorce process, you have probably heard discussions about spousal support.  The purpose of spousal support is to provide an ex-spouse with an income for basic needs and to maintain the marital standard of living.  When calculating spousal support, the court considers many factors, some of which include: (1) the earning capacity of each party and its relationship to the standard of living established during the marriage; (2) the extent to which the supported party contributed to the attainment of education, career training, and licenses of the supporting party; (3) the ability of the supporting party to pay such spousal support; (4) the obligations and assets of each party; (5) the duration of the marriage; (6) the age and health of the parties; and (7) the balance of hardships on each party.[1]

In general, an ex-husband or an ex-wife may request a modification or termination of spousal support if there has been a “change in circumstances” since the previous spousal support order was made.  The most common changes in circumstances include remarriage by the supported spouse or a significant reduction in income of the supporting spouse.

While remarriage is almost always considered to be a change in circumstance significant enough to terminate any spousal support order, an atypical case in August 2012 held otherwise.  In that case, the California Court of Appeal held that an ex-husband must continue paying spousal support to his ex-wife, even though his ex-wife had “re-married.”  The catch: the ex-wife never obtained a California marriage license with her new fiancé.  Although the ex-wife and her fiancé threw a big wedding and had a rabbi officiate the ceremony, the court found that the couple never officially married and, without an official marriage license, the ex-husband had no grounds to terminate his spousal support payments. 

The court found that the ex-husband did not provide sufficient evidence to show that he qualified for a termination of spousal support since the ex-wife had not actually remarried and the ex-husband’s income had not decreased significantly.  Although the court refused to terminate spousal support, the court did find that there was reason to modify spousal support.  The court reasoned that, since the ex-wife was partially supported by her fiancé, the ex-husband did not need to provide the amount of support previously ordered prior to the ex-wife moving in with her fiancé.[2]

The amount of spousal support Ms. Eastwood will receive depends on the factors listed above.  The courts will certainly consider the fact that Mr. and Mrs. Eastwood were in a long term marriage of 17 years and that the earning capacity of each party, especially Mr. Eastwood, is quite substantial.

Determining spousal support is a fact driven process.   For more information on spousal support, consult an experienced attorney.

[1] Cal. Fam. Code § 4320

[2] In re Marriage of Left, 208 Cal. App. 4th 1137 (2012).