Child support and alimony are both ordered in many divorce cases. In any case, ex-spouses and co-parents often misunderstand the purpose of these payments, and courts need to keep straight which payments are for which purpose because these are vastly different support payments. If you are seeking a divorce or need help with your spousal support or child support case, contact the Ventura divorce lawyers at the Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth today.

Child Support vs. Alimony in CA

Alimony is also known as “spousal support,” and it is money paid to a spouse after a divorce to help support them. Many divorces involving children also involve child support, which is money paid to the other parent to support their shared children. In divorces without shared children, child support is not involved, but alimony may still be.

These are both support payments and are usually paid by the same person to the same recipient, but they are different and have distinct rules that courts, payors, and recipients need to keep straight.

The Purposes of Alimony and Child Support

The names “spousal support” and “child support” do their best to keep these two support payments distinct. The payments made to the spouse for alimony or spousal support should only be enough to cover the spouse’s needs. This means paying for things like the ex-spouse’s share of rent, groceries, clothes, medical expenses, etc.

The money paid to the spouse for alimony is not expected to be enough to support the children, and courts order child support separately to provide for the shared children. Child support should be calculated separately and should be enough to cover the noncustodial parent’s fair share of the child’s housing costs, medical expenses, groceries, clothes, and other necessities regardless of how much is already paid in alimony.

Once the parent receives the payments, they can usually mingle the funds in their bank account and use them however they want – but child support payments should never be so high that the recipient has extra funds to spend on him- or herself instead of the children.

Child Support is Mandatory; Alimony is Not

Any time parents live in separate households, it is expected that there is a child support order. Unless parents have identical incomes and spend equal amounts of time with the children in a 50/50 parenting time plan, it is likely that one parent spends more money out-of-pocket on the children. Child support is ordered to make up for that difference in out-of-pocket expenses, and courts expect parents to get a child support order any time the parents live apart.

This means that child support is common in many cases of separation and divorce, and it is required even if the parents aren’t married. On the other hand, alimony is not as common.

Alimony is not required in every divorce case. Alimony is common when one spouse has no funds or job and needs time to get job training, find a job, and support themselves. Alimony is also incredibly common in cases of very long marriages where one person may have spent the majority of their life being supported by their spouse or when the recipient has healthcare needs that require additional support. However, in cases of short marriages or cases where both spouses work, alimony is rare.

Automatic Wage Garnishment for Both Spousal Support and Child Support

In California, both spousal support and child support should be paid automatically through wage garnishment. Many states leave payment up to the payor and merely give them a due date and amount for each payment. California is more strict and requires wage garnishment on nearly every case.

Wage garnishment is often seen as a penalty for non-payment, but California uses it automatically for most child support or spousal support cases. This means you usually do not need to worry about due dates or on-time payment since both payments for alimony and child support will be taken from the payor’s paychecks.

Prenuptial Agreements Can’t Cover Child Support

While prenuptial and postnuptial agreements can cover a wide range of topics, they can’t cover child support. These agreements may dictate how assets are divided after divorce and may state how much alimony will be paid, but they cannot touch child custody or child support issues.

Tax Consequences of Spousal Support and Child Support

Generally, child support is not taxable, but alimony is more complicated.

Everywhere in the U.S., including California, you can receive child support tax-free. This also means that there are no tax deductions granted to the person paying child support.

Alimony is more complex. In any divorce finalized before December 31, 2018, the recipient needs to count alimony as taxable income and the payor is allowed to deduct qualifying alimony payments from their taxes.

The rules change for 2019, and alimony/spousal support will no longer be taxed. This means that recipients will no longer have to include alimony as part of their taxable income, but it also means payors lose that tax deduction. These rules take effect based on the date of the final divorce order or legal separation agreement. If you want to take advantage of the old tax rules, your spousal support case must be finalized by December 31, 2018, or else your alimony will be tax-free and non-deductible, just like child support.

Ventura, CA Divorce Lawyer Offering Free Consultations

If you are considering getting divorced or have already begun the process of legal separation or divorce, you may already be in a situation where you need to pay or receive child support or spousal support. Talk to a Ventura family law attorney today for help with your case. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth have decades of experience handling divorce cases, and we offer free consultations. Call us today at (805) 643-5555 to schedule your free, confidential consultation.