Permanent spousal support can be awarded in a judgment of dissolution of marriage or legal separation. Although it is referred to as ‘permanent’, this is actually misleading since the actual duration of support is within the discretion of the court and is still subject to modification.
Permanent spousal support includes a wide variety of financial assistance intended to cover a party’s living expenses such as food, housing, clothing, health, vacation and travel expenses. The list is not limited to basic necessities. In some instances, the court may even order the supporting spouse to:
- Maintain health insurance for the other spouse
- Make mortgage payment to the supported spouse or directly to the mortgagor
- Pay overdue community debts or the support spouse’s future debts
- Take out a life insurance policy with the other spouse as beneficiary
- Purchase an annuity or establish a trust to support the other spouse after the supporting spouse’s death
- Pay the supported spouse’s attorney fees based on need
Temporary Support versus Permanent Support
The purpose of permanent support is to provide financial assistance to a party while temporary support aims to preserve the status quo until dissolution is final and there is a division of assets. The computation of temporary support is guided by local rules while the computation of permanent support is more complex. In computing, the court will consider a wide variety of statutory factors in calculating permanent support, such as the goal that the supported spouse should become self-supporting within a reasonable period of time.
The reality is that permanent support tends to be of a lower amount than temporary support. This is because the considerations in awarding those two types of support are different for each. The court also cannot use the amount awarded for temporary support as the basis for the award of permanent support. Similarly, the court cannot use the local guidelines in place for temporary support in computing permanent support.
Spousal support is not considered mandatory in dissolution proceedings. Computer programs cannot be used in calculating permanent support. In determining whether or not permanent support should be awarded, the court must consider the following factors:
- The extent to which the earning capacity of each party is sufficient to maintain the standard of living established during the marriage.
- 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.
- The ability of the supporting party to pay spousal support
- The needs of each party based on the standard of living established during the marriage.
- The obligations and assets, including the separate property, of each party.
- The duration of the marriage.
- 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.
- The age and health of the parties.
- All documented evidence of any history of domestic violence
- The immediate and specific tax consequences to each party.
- The balance of the hardships to each party.
- The goal that the supported party shall be self-supporting within a reasonable period of time.
- The criminal conviction of an abusive spouse shall be considered in making a reduction or elimination of a spousal support award
- Any other factors the court determines are just and equitable.
The court can use its discretion in weighing these factors. The goal is to accomplish substantial justice for both parties. However, the court must exercise its discretion within the legal boundaries set forth by law. It cannot act arbitrarily on the matter; moreover, it is especially important for the court to consider the parties’ reasonable need and financial abilities. Failure to consider such is reason to appeal the case to a higher court.