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Spousal Support In Sonoma County

April 20, 2012

Spousal Support in Santa Rosa

The issue of spousal support in Sonoma County is a complex one.  I find that for my clients at Go Divorce Clinic, it is probably the most fragile ground that divorcing couples walk on when settling out the rights and responsibilities associated with the dissolution of a marriage.  Perhaps the most confounding aspect for each party is the process of them becoming aware of the roles that each has played in the marriage and accepting the inherent inequities that have arisen by virtue of these roles as they played out over the course of the marriage.  What exactly do we mean when we use the word “inequity” in the context of divorce?

Earnings Capacity Inequities

A marriage is first and foremost a partnership.  Roles are an essential element in any partnership.  To put it bluntly, some roles pay better than others.  Domestic labor and child rearing (no matter who does it) pay nothing, garner no health insurance, accumulate no retirement, and enrich no resume.  In the extreme cases, one party in a divorce can end up close to retiring age with no real capacity to retain gainful employment, and the predicament is compounded by no retirement accounts, pension or insurance policies waiting to carry them through their final years.  In spirit this inequity is tragic because when a couple says “I do”, they typically are committing to be there for each other for life regardless of their roles within the marriage.  That trust becomes lost in a divorce, and often one person will lose more than a promise, they can lose significant financial security, and all that this entails.  I am not referring to the millionaire “lifestyle” ruptures that post-divorce celebrities must endure, but for the greater cross section of the general public it means a basic necessity deficit in the ability to acquire food and shelter, let alone extras like medicine and clothing.

California Family Code §4320

In California, Family Code §4320 speaks to the elements that constitute a legitimate consideration for spousal support awards.  This section of the family code is the legal grist through which those who have throughout the course of the marriage experienced the fact patterns addressed in CFC §4320, and now at divorce are facing a financial disparity, can seek remedy.  In my office at Go Divorce Clinic, clients considering a spousal support award often review this section of the family code together in my office to determine if indeed by the time of divorce there has been established a clear earnings capacity inequity due to statutorily defined factors that arose as fact patterns during the course of the marriage partnership.  If the couple recognizes that there is a legitimate call for a spousal support award, then the conversation moves to the determination of the amount of the award and the term.

Amount and Term of Award

To say that one can determine the amount and term of a spousal support award with complete objectivity, or establish a consistent and uniform amount and term for every case, or refer to a predetermined award amount in an absolutely standardized way would be an overstatement.  Dissomaster spousal support calculations can offer some idea based on a formula established looking at income and expense criteria, among other things.  However, rules of thumb and Dissomaster guideline amounts aside, the fact ever remains that spousal support awards are always going to be looked at case by case; trying to guess what any given family court judge will decide, with any given case, on any given day, is realistically impossible.  What appears fair to one party may simply not appear fair to the other no matter what the Dissomaster suggests or what a family court judge rules.  This is why I work with my clients at Go Divorce Clinic to find agreement between themselves.  In the end, knowing how the law speaks statutorily to spousal support, and the facts about your marriage roles, combined with a facilitated dialogue about the issue, will go along way to reconciling inequities in a way where control of the outcome is retained by the Parties involved.

Finding Agreement

At Go Divorce Clinic, I always suggest to clients that along with these logistical considerations, your personal conscience and what your heart says will always serve best to find the right solution to address earnings capacity inequities derived from participation in a marriage partnership.  With no one “right answer” to be found with regard to spousal support, we can do our best to sense into what “feels” right after all the law and facts are considered.  Participating in your own agreement together shaves the edge off resentment and bitterness from both sides, and helps heal instead of exacerbate the differences in perspective  between divorcing couples.  Not being afraid to have a healthy conversation about what spousal support is designed to address, and how that may or may not apply to your marriage ought to be a basic approach to the business of conducting clients through the divorce process.  Visit our website at:  www.GoDivorceClinic.com to learn more about our new vision for the business of divorce.