Can Child Support Received by One Spouse Reduce Spousal Support Payments?

In ordering spousal support, a court must consider each party's needs as they relate to the standard of living established during the marriage. Cal. Fam. Code §4320(d). These needs must be reasonable, commensurate with a spouse's station in life and not merely bare necessities. Marriage of Siegel (1972) 26 CA3d 88, 92.

An argument for considering child support in a spousal support analysis is that those payments offset household expenses. Cal. Fam. Code §4053(f) (child support may improve standard of custodial household). The counter-argument is that child and spousal support serve different purposes; the goal of child support is to meet the needs of the child whenever possible (Cal. Fam. Code § 4053), and spousal support is for the spouse's expenses. Marriage of Romero (2002) 99 CA4th 1436, 1443. 

An argument can be made that spousal support should not be ordered based on a "need" that is already being satisfied by child support. For example, substantial child support payments may reduce or completely satisfy a party's housing expenses. In those cases, the court should consider this fact when setting spousal support. 

On the other hand, if the child support amount is insufficient to meet the costs of actually raising the child and to support the spouse at the marital standard of living, spousal support may be appropriate. But, simply because guideline child support is not enough to support the child does not mean the court can disguise a child support order as a spousal support order. 

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