What Is the Difference Between Alimony and Child Support?

Posted in Child Support on April 27, 2020

A divorce case in California could involve many financial matters, including asset division, alimony and child support. Understanding your rights and options, as well as how to protect them on a legal level, is important during a divorce. Otherwise, your spouse or his or her attorney can take advantage of you during arbitration or a divorce trial. Start by learning the difference between alimony and child support.

Alimony vs. Child Support

Alimony and child support are both financial awards a judge can order one spouse to pay in a California divorce case. A judge has the power to force one spouse to pay the other a sum for child and/or spousal support as part of a divorce settlement. Once issued, the paying party cannot negotiate the support order. The paying party may only request a modification of the order later, if his or her financial situation substantially changes. Each type of support order has a different purpose, however, and comes with different laws in California.

Alimony (now called spousal or partner support) is meant to maintain a spouse’s standard of living. Child support maintains a child’s standard of living. Standards of living refer to the home environment and lifestyle a family enjoyed before the divorce. In terms of child support, the courts maintain that a divorce should not affect a child’s standard of living. If the lower-earning spouse receives primary custody, therefore, the courts might make the higher-earning spouse pay child support to help maintain the child’s standard of living after a divorce.

Spousal support serves to pay the lower-earning spouse for his or her normal standard of living. It is a monetary award the courts might grant if one spouse earns significantly less than the other – especially if the lower-earning spouse gave up a career or schooling to raise a family. Spousal support is not meant to pay for a child’s needs, nor is child support meant to cover a parent’s expenses. A judge will look at both spouse’s incomes, previous standards of living, childcare requirements, the length of the marriage and many other factors when deciding on child support and/or alimony orders.

Is Alimony a Dated Term?

The term alimony derives from the Latin word alimōnia, meaning nourishment or sustenance. From alimōnia also came the Scots law of aliment – the financial obligation each spouse will have to the other until the finalization of a divorce. The courts in California and many other states no longer refer to spousal support as alimony. They changed the term to better accommodate the modern concept. The official term in California is now spousal or partner support. You may still hear it referred to as alimony or spousal maintenance, however.

Is Child Support Taxable in California?

The taxation of a child support and/or spousal support order is a significant issue many couples have during and after their divorce cases. Knowing how an order might affect you come tax time can keep you on the right side of the law with the Internal Revenue Service. You will not have to include child support you receive from your spouse as income for tax purposes. Child support orders are tax neutral under federal tax laws. Your spouse will also be unable to deduct child support payments on his or her taxes.

If a judge issued a spousal support order, however, this amount could be taxable. The paying spouse will be able to deduct spousal support payments on his or her taxes if a judge issued the order on or before December 31, 2018. The party receiving the spousal support will have to pay taxes on the award on the state and federal levels. If issued after December 31, 2018, however, the rules change. An updated federal tax law makes spousal support nontaxable. Parties with spousal support awards issued in 2019 or later may not deduct these awards on their taxes, nor will recipients have to pay taxes on them as income. State spousal support taxation, however, remains the same until the state decides to change it.