What is the Difference Between Child Support and Alimony?

During the divorce process, there are many financial issues that you will need to work through with your spouse. Among those are the subjects of alimony and child support. People often misunderstand the difference between these two types of support.

While both are support payments typically paid by the same person, they are different, and each has a distinct set of rules. If you are thinking of filing for divorce, it’s important to know how these two types of payments differ, as well as which you might qualify for or which you may be required to pay. We are going to define each type of payment and point out the differences between each.


Alimony (also known as spousal support) is a payment made from one spouse to another after a divorce. The intention of alimony is to help the spouse who earns less maintain the same lifestyle as before the divorce.

The courts may grant a spouse alimony in addition to child support.  If you are expecting alimony it’s important to know that the courts will not automatically grant alimony. You have to ask for it.

How Is Alimony Determined?

There isn’t a specific formula to decide if the courts should grant alimony or how they should calculate the payment amount. There are a variety of factors that go into determining alimony payments. (California Family Code section 4320)

  • The income of each spouse as well as their current employment situation
  • Each person’s living expenses
  • The division of assets during the divorce
  • How long the marriage lasted
  • The age of each spouse

Certain circumstances can cause the amount of the alimony payment that the court initially granted to be modified. For example, if the person paying alimony loses their job, they can ask for a reduction in the amount of alimony they pay. On the other hand, the person receiving alimony can ask for an increase when their cost of living increases.

How Is Alimony Taxed?

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 changes how alimony payments are taxed. Alimony determinations made before December 31, 2018, require that the person receiving the payments include them as part of their taxable income. And if you are making alimony payments, they are considered a tax deduction.

Determinations made after December 31, 2018, do not require the recipient of the payments to report them as taxable income. And if you are paying alimony, those payments are not tax-deductible.      

Child Support

Child support is money paid by the noncustodial parent to help maintain the child’s standard of living and is typically automatically granted during the divorce proceedings. The custodial parent should use it to cover medical care, food, housing, clothing, and other necessary expenses.

Unless the parents earn the same amount of income and have a 50/50 parenting plan, one parent typically spends more on the children. Child support is issued to make up for that difference.

How Is Child Support Determined?

Child support is determined based on California Family Code Sections 4050-4076. The judge will consider the following information when determining the amount of child support payments:

  • The gross income of each parent
  • How much time the child spends with each parent
  • Tax deductions that each parent can claim
  • How much each parent pays in health insurance, union dues, and pension
  • Child care costs paid by each parent

The courts will then plug those numbers into a complex formula that will decide the amount of the child support payments. And while this amount is presumed to be the correct amount that the courts should order, the judge can decide to increase or decrease the amount of support if the situation meets certain criteria.

How Is Child Support Taxed?

Since child support benefits the children, child support payments are not taxable. Also, the parent providing child support can not use child support payments as a tax deduction.

How Are Support Payments Made in California?

Many states use wage garnishment only in cases of non-payment. However, California requires wage garnishments for all support payments. Garnishing the payor’s wages ensures on-time payments because the payor’s employer takes the payments directly from their paycheck and submits them to the state.

Let Us Help You Get the Financial Support You Deserve From Your Divorce

As a parent, the first thing you may think of during a divorce proceeding is child support. But if you are eligible for alimony, you need to make sure that you are taken care of financially. And if the court orders you to pay child support or alimony, it’s important to know your rights and what you are legally required to do.

Having an experienced family law attorney on your side will protect your rights during your divorce. The partners at Azemika & Azemika have over 56 combined years of handling family law cases. We will help you understand your rights, and we will represent you in court and do everything in our power to get you the results you desire.

Contact our office today to schedule a consultation. Let us fight for you and protect you and your family during this emotional time.

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