Two key issues of importance are the amount and duration of spousal support.
The duration of spousal support is closely linked to the length of the marriage. Frequently, practitioners speak of the 'rule of thumb' that spousal support will last for one-half the length of the marriage.
The duration of spousal support is left to the sound discretion of the court within certain general equitable principals and guidelines most often set forth in the common law case histories. However, in marriages of less than ten years, the statute provides a presumption that support should be granted for half the length of the marriage.
The California legislator has enacted a statute which indicates that when permanent support is established at the time of trial, it is an abuse of discretion for the court to set a future termination date if the marriage is of lengthy duration. The statute goes on to indicate that any marriage of ten years in duration is considered a lengthy marriage.
As a practical matter, in the late 1990s it appears that spousal support duration is linked to a transition period from married life to single life. The circumstances vary from person-to-person, but the courts tend to disfavor "lifetime support."
The court has a broad discretion in ascertaining the amount of spousal support as well as its duration.. Some California counties have adopted a guideline which suggests the appropriate range of spousal support on a temporary basis. Many counties do not allow the guideline to be the sole indicator of the amount of permanent spousal support. California State law provides that spousal support is determined by a careful review of a number of factors. The controlling statute states as follows:
4320. In ordering spousal support under this part, the court shall consider all of the following circumstances:
(a) The extent to which the earning capacity of each party is sufficient to maintain the standard of living established during the marriage, taking into account all of the following:
(1) The marketable skills of the supported party; the job market for those skills; the time and expenses required for the supported party to acquire the appropriate education or training to develop those skills; and the possible need for retraining or education to acquire other, more marketable skills or employment.
(2) The extent to which the supported party's present or future earning capacity is impaired by periods of unemployment that were incurred during the marriage to permit the supported party to devote
time to domestic duties.
(b) The extent to which the supported party contributed to the attainment of an education, training, a career position, or a license by the supporting party.
(c) The ability of the supporting party to pay spousal support, taking into account the supporting party's earning capacity, earned and unearned income, assets, and standard of living.
(d) The needs of each party based on the standard of living established during the marriage.
(e) The obligations and assets, including the separate property, of each party.
(f) The duration of the marriage.
(g) 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.
(h) The age and health of the parties.
(i) Documented evidence of any history of domestic violence, as defined in Section 6211, between the parties, including, but not limited to, consideration of emotional distress resulting from domestic violence perpetrated against the supported party by the supporting party, and consideration of any history of violence against the supporting party by the supported party.
(j) The immediate and specific tax consequences to each party.
(k) The balance of the hardships to each party.
(l) The goal that the supported party shall be self-supporting within a reasonable period of time. Except in the case of a marriage of long duration as described in Section 4336, a "reasonable period of time" for purposes of this section generally shall be one-half the length of the marriage. However, nothing in this section is intended to limit the court's discretion to order support for a greater or lesser length of time, based on any of the other factors listed in this section, Section 4336, and the circumstances of the parties.
(m) The criminal conviction of an abusive spouse shall be considered in making a reduction or elimination of a spousal support award in accordance with Section 4325.
(n) Any other factors the court determines are just and equitable.