Temporary vs. Permanent Spousal Support

Divorces have many contentious aspects, from the division of property and assets to the awarding of child custody. One such hotly contested issue is that of spousal support. The courts will often award support or alimony to a spouse who supported the earning member of a marriage, emotionally or by remaining at home to raise the children. This is not the only example in which a judge may award spousal support, but it’s one of the most common. Of particular concern is whether a judge chooses to award temporary or permanent spousal support. What’s the difference, and what goes into the decision-making process?

What Is Temporary Support?

The California Family Code gives judges the authority to make temporary awards of spousal support. As the name implies, these awards are only until the couple finalizes the divorce. The purpose of a temporary spousal support award is to allow a non-earning or lower-earning spouse to maintain his or her status quo until the time of the trial. Unlike permanent spousal support, temporary awards only serve as a short-term solution. The main method of calculating spousal support is using a “guideline formula” This involves considering input like the income of both parties, tax filing status, applicable deductions, and more. This allows both parties to continue as close to the status quo as possible until they finalize the divorce proceeding.

What Is Permanent Support?

The term “permanent support” is a bit of a misnomer, as spousal support is not always automatically permanent. In this case, permanent support refers to the award that comes at the end of a divorce proceeding. A judge enjoys much broader discretion in this case and may make a permanent spousal support arrangement based on several factors. A family court judge typically makes a permanent spousal support award based on:

  • What the marital standard of living was
  • The health of both members of the marriage
  • The assets and debts of both parties
  • Tax consequences of support arrangements
  • Evidence of domestic violence
  • Any other factors that the courts find necessary to produce a just and reasonable award.

It’s important to note that “permanent” spousal support does not mean a lifetime award. In most cases, spousal support has an eventual termination point and a spouse is expected to become self-supporting. This point is called the Gavron Warning. At the time the non-earning spouse receives their alimony agreement, they also receive this directive that they are not to rely solely on this support.

The Gavron Warning gets its name from a landmark case in California about 30 years ago. In this case, an ex-wife enjoyed support through permanent alimony payments and was unemployed, as she did not have valuable job skills. However, six years into the arrangement, the paying spouse argued that she had sufficient time to better herself and become self-reliant. As a result, the courts modified the alimony arrangements and saw the wife’s failure to become employed as a change in circumstance. As a result, the burden shifted to her to prove that she needed additional support.

Today, the Gavron Warning serves as a method for the courts to advise the recipient that he or she is expected to make efforts to become self-sustaining. Failure to do so may result in the discontinuation of payments. It’s important to note, however, that the Gavron Warning may not apply to a marriage of long duration.

Spousal support comes in two main forms and the methods for evaluating each vary. A temporary order will only last the duration of the divorce process, while a permanent award intends to help a lower-earning spouse develop the means to become self-sustaining.