Temporary spousal support

Temporary spousal support is court-ordered monthly payment from one spouse to the other while a family law case is on-going. 

When can you ask for support

A judge can order temporary spousal support in a divorce, legal separation, or a domestic violence restraining order case. These are family law cases.

A spouse can ask for support as soon as a family law case starts

When a couple separates, the spouse with less income often has immediate financial needs. As soon as a family law case is filed, that spouse can ask the court to order spousal support.  

If the spouses can’t agree on support, a judge must decide 

A judge can order support in any amount the spouses agree on. But, if the couple can’t agree, then the judge decides the amount.  

How is support calculated

Judges order support based on needs and ability to pay 

 The judge decides the amount by looking at the: 

  • Needs of spouse with less money 

  • Ability to pay for spouse with more money 

They’ll look at how much one spouse needs to meet their expenses and whether the other spouse makes enough to meet that need. 

  • Example: need and ability to pay 

    Needs: One spouse's net income is $3,400 a month, but their expenses are $3,700. They need $300 to make ends meet.   

    Ability to pay: The other spouse's net income is $5,000 per month, but their expenses are $3,500. That spouse can afford to pay support. 

    Decision: Here, the judge might order the spouse who can afford to pay support to pay the spouse with more need $300 per month for temporary support. 

Judges often use a guideline formula to figure out need and ability to pay 

In most courts, the judge uses a math formula to figure out needs and ability to pay.  

Common temporary spousal support formula: 

Monthly support = 40% higher earner’s net monthly income – 50% lower earner’s net monthly income  

In your court, the judge may use this formula or something different.

  • Example: amount of support using the common formula 

    Spouse 1's net income is $6,000 per month

    Spouse 2's net income is $4,000 per month 

    40% of $6,000 = $2,400 

    50% of $4,000 = $2,000 

    $2,400 - $2,000 = $400.00 

    Spouse 1 will pay Spouse 2 $400 support per month. 

Judges use the formula as guide or starting point  

These formulas are just guides. The judge can vary the amount based on your situation.  

For example, it might vary if you or your spouse: 

  • Pay for your child to attend college  

  • Have high medical bills 

  • Have a lot of money in savings 

You and your spouse can always agree to a different amount that makes sense for your situation.  

Get help from your court. 

Your court’s Self-Help Center or Family Law Facilitator may be able to help you with the calculations. They have a computer program that can do these calculations. 
 

You can ask to change the amount of temporary support if either of your finances change 

If either of your financial situations changes, you can ask the judge to change the amount or end support. For example, if you’re paying support and you lose your job or your spouse starts working, you can ask the judge to change support.  

It’s very important that you ask to change the temporary support amount right away. A judge can only change the amount as far back as the date you filed the papers asking for the change.   

How to get or change temporary support 

There are 2 ways to get or change temporary spousal support 

1. You and your spouse have a written agreement 

Prepare an agreement

2. You ask the judge to order support  

This is the same if you want to get support or you need to change the support amount. 

Ask the judge to order temporary spousal support