How to Calculate Spousal Support

By Art Smithers

Torn photo of home symbolizes divorce

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The questions of whether and how much spousal support to award are not determined easily. Courts are typically required to consider a laundry list of factors, including the need and ability to pay as well as the educational level and health of the parties. A separation driven by adultery may produce a substantially different support award than one where both parties are equally culpable. It is difficult to predict in advance the amount of support that a court is likely to award. However, it is possible to examine the various factors involved to determine whether you qualify for spousal support. Three commonly awarded types include temporary, rehabilitative and permanent support.

Determine whether you are entitled to temporary spousal support. Examine your financial records and calculate both your total income as well as that of your spouse. Assume that you are living by yourself and calculate the amount you will need to pay your basic living expenses. These expenses should include rent, utilities, transportation costs and food, but don't neglect others such as credit card payments and entertainment costs. Review what your present expenses are and ascertain how they would change once you are living alone. Determine whether your income is sufficient to meet your costs of living. Review your spouse's income, subtract her living expenses and determine whether your spouse has the ability to pay an award of temporary support. The court is permitted to award temporary support before issuing the divorce decree.

Examine whether you are entitled to rehabilitative support. If you are working, additional training will improve your earning capacity. If you are not working, review your work history and evaluate whether you are ably working, review your educational background and consider whether to return to work at present; if not, decide what type of additional education or training you require to allow you to do so. Review the costs of education or training and compare it with your spouse's income to determine whether your spouse has the ability to pay this type of support. Research the law of your state to determine the requirements. For example, a Florida court is permitted to award rehabilitative support if you can show that you have a "specific and defined rehabilitative plan."

Ascertain whether you are qualified to receive permanent spousal support. Review your standard of living as it has been during your marriage and evaluate whether your present ability to work will permit you to maintain that standard. Review also whether rehabilitative support will improve your earning capacity. A typical prerequisite might include a showing that your earnings capacity is insufficient to meet the "needs and necessities of life."


An award of spousal support is not intended to be a punishment. However, in determining the proper award, some states allow the court to consider what actions precipitated the divorce. For example, if your husband is divorcing you because you committed adultery, Virginia courts are permitted to consider this as a reason for reducing or even denying spousal support to you. This is less likely to apply in states where no-fault divorce is the rule, however.

You should expect that it will cost more for two to live apart and that your quality of life will change. Most courts strive for balance in determining spousal support. Only where there are exceptional circumstances should either of you be required to pay so much support that it leaves you unable to provide for yourself.


The type and amount of spousal support that is available varies widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Because most states provide no numeric guidelines for calculating spousal support, the actual amount awarded may be substantially different from the amount you expect to receive. Always consult with an attorney or a legal document website if you have any doubts about whether you should proceed.