Temporary spousal support refers to spousal support (alimony) while the divorce is in process. It can begin as early as the filing date of the petition. It ends no later than when the divorce is final and it is then often replaced by what is called “permanent” spousal support.
The purpose of temporary spousal support is to try to maintain the marital standard of living for both spouses. If this is not financially possible, it can be used to try to spread the financial pain fairly evenly. Temporary spousal support is usually paid monthly but it can be otherwise if mutually agreed.
If children are involved, temporary spousal support is normally considered after the amount of child support has been established. This is because providing for the children should be the first priority. Sometimes when incomes are low there is little or no money left over for spousal support once the amount of child support has been established.
Spouses can negotiate any amount of temporary support they feel is appropriate for their situation. It is a good idea to try to come to your own agreement for a number of reasons, one of which is that you can take into account your whole financial picture. The guideline-based programs (discussed below) that are often used by judges to determine temporary spousal support do not take into account the living expenses of the spouses.
Temporary spousal support can be tax deductible by the payer providing it meets some basic tests, one of which is that the support is pursuant to a court order or a written separation agreement. This assumes the spouses are no longer living together and do not file a joint tax return. If the support is tax deductible for the payer, the recipient must include the support received as income on the recipient’s tax return. Spouses can agree whether or not they want to consider the payments to be tax deductible and therefore the receipts to be taxable income.
Temporary Spousal Support Orders
If a spouse files a motion for temporary spousal support and it is decided by a judge, the judge will normally use a standardized program to arrive at the amount of temporary support. The most well-known of these programs are Dissomaster and XSpouse. These programs use standard guidelines that vary slightly by county. The two main factors that go into the calculation are the net, after-tax incomes of each spouse and the amount of child support (if any) that has already been established. If no children are involved, the result is approximately 40% of the net income of the high earner, less 50% of the net income of the low earner. These guideline amounts promote consistency in temporary support orders and can therefore reduce the need for hearings. However, they are not mandatory and should not be used by judges in cases with unusual facts or circumstances.
When a judge issues a temporary spousal support order, it is usually made retroactive to the date of the motion requesting the support. The order and the amount of support cannot be modified unless one of the spouses can show there has been a significant change in circumstances.