Q. I am in the process of settling my divorce with my ex-husband. Our only
dispute is a fair amount of spousal support that I will receive. His attorney
mentioned something he called the "B-Bump" as a way to come
to an agreement. What is it, and how does the B-Bump work?
A. I have written extensively about various aspects of temporary and judgment
(often erroneously referred to as "permanent") spousal support,
and how it is calculated at different stages of the proceedings. If this
issue is important to you, please try the search engine at the upper right
of each page, or go to the Blog Categories on my
Enlightened Divorce™ Home Page, at left.
For purposes of your question, the short answer begins here: Temporary
spousal support describes support that a party may be entitled to receive
during the phase of the proceedings that begins with the filing of the
Petition for dissolution, or legal separation, and which concludes with
entry of a Judgment. Temporary spousal support in California is pretty
much universally fixed in the same manner as child support is - using
one of the family law computer software programs like the Xspouse or Dissomaster.
These legal programs themselves simply crunch the algorithms that are
set out in
Family Code section 4055. If you look at that statute, you will see that you must be a mathematician
to otherwise figure it out. Temporary spousal support is an income-driven
analysis - generally your (or his) expenses are irrelevant at this stage.
The programs "tax-effect" the numbers, so that the beginning
point is always gross, pre-tax income.
Judgment spousal support, somewhat obviously, is any alimony that a party
may receive from and after entry of that Judgment. It cannot be determined
using the support software programs. Instead, in contested cases that
result in a family court trial, the judge is required to determine support
amounts based upon an evaluation of each of the factors set forth in
Family Code section 4320. It is reversible error for the court to fail to make these findings,
especially if requested to do so. This means that while temporary support
awards can be reliably predicted once the final numbers that get inputted
are determined, it is impossible to specifically predict judgment spousal
support outcomes since each case turns on its own facts and unique application
of the "4320 factors".
However, the reality is that only a very small fraction of judgment spousal
support cases actually to go trial. The overwhelming majority settle -
as they should!
Still, a fair settlement can be challenging because the judgment spousal
support never gets fixed by a court if the parties sign a Marital Settlement
Agreement or Stipulated Judgment. This leaves it to the parties to do
so. Most commonly once a support number is agreed upon, they or their
attorneys do not evaluate or list what the court would or should of found
had it been asked to make 4320 findings. Hence, most settlement agreements
leave that out entirely - a very bad practice because a court that is
later asked to modify or terminate a judgment spousal support award will
have no guidance in the settlement document as to what those factors were
or should have been. In settlement agreements prepared by my office, particularly
with long-term marriages in excess of ten years, we almost always list
our own findings as to each subsection of 4320 that apply to the parties'
circumstances. That way, if our client later is seeking to modify, or
defend a modification, of their alimony award there is a baseline to measure
changes that have occurred since Judgment was entered against.
The Xspouse and the Dissomaster offer another option for resolving and
fixing the amount of judgment spousal support. It is called the "B-Bump".
The B-Bump is accessed by running a temporary spousal support number in
the program (combined with child support numbers if there are minor kids),
and then pressing the "control" key and the letter "B".
This results in an automatic reduction as to the temporary spousal support
number by a floating fixed percentage. This makes some sense on the assumption
that in the average case, where there are no special facts like a history
of illness or domestic violence (others apply too), judgment spousal support
is a smaller number than is temporary spousal support. This is because
each satisfies different public policy concerns, and assumes a party may
have a greater need for spousal support at the early phases of a divorce
where one household is splitting into two. By the time the judgment is
entered, it is assumed things have calmed down and people have become
accustomed to their new budgetary realities.
I say the fixed percentage is floating because no specific percentage amounts
applies equally to every combination of income scenario for each of the
two parties. It some situations the amount of judgment spousal support
may be reduced by 12 to 15% of the temporary figure, while in others the
reduction is much greater and approximates 31% or more. The inclusion
of a temporary child support obligation (where both CS and SS are being
calculated) will alter or skew the numbers. The numbers change together
with the tax-effects of deductible spousal support, but they seek to give
some idea of what both parties' net spendable income will be after
the calculation is performed.
Accordingly, the reality is that using the B-Bump key function is the equivalent
of pulling numbers out of thin air, and the math behind it will not be
understandable to anyone on any kind of objective basis. It is like using
a magic wand to transmute temporary spousal support figures into judgment
support numbers. Still, for settlement purposes it can have some usefulness
in a number of respects:
- Many people are exhausted and just want to be told what their obligations
are and so get on with their lives
- Possibly they're familiar with its application from an initial support
hearing, and for the payor spouse any lesser monthly sum sounds like a
- Spousal support trials are extremely costly and can tend to generate further
- The program presents net spendable income numbers that the parties can
consider in light of their budgets, and after all settlements can and
should be based upon the parties' respective needs and abilities to pay
- The B-Bump allows each side to look at numbers that are "objective"
in the sense that neither of them created them
- They fall where they fall, not quite in the way that dice do but the same
for all similarly situated people who are treated, well - "uniformly"
- In mediation support numbers are often arrived at through a process that
looks to the totality of each spouse's circumstances, in order to
meet the needs of each as best as can be accomplished. Of course, one
of the benefits of mediation is that numbers aren't imposed upon you
by a third party (person or machine), but instead result from a balanced
dialogue based upon felt concerns. The net spendable numbers may facilitate
- Some divorcing couples can have that discussion, others just need a number.
If you need to pull a rabbit out of your hat so that your case can be inexpensively
finalized, the B-Bump is one way to do it that at least doesn't leave
either side feeling that they caved into the demands of the other. In
many ways, having a family court judge fix your judgment spousal support
number following a trial on the 4230 factors is every bit as much a mystery
and a risk. Some people may prefer a machine telling them what to pay
and accept rather than a judicial officer - and the money that using the
B-Bump will save (not to mention the acrimony) makes it a viable option
in appropriate cases.
I have seen parties to prenuptial agreements agree that the B-Bump will
be used to determine spousal support just so they have the certainty of
knowing how it will be fixed in advance, in an effort to save legal fees
in the event of a subsequent break-up. Whether a court can enforce such
a provision remains an open question given that it would otherwise be
reversible error for the Court to base judgment suppport on guideline
support (especially if in light of the circumstances existing at date
of enforcement such a result would be "unconscionable"), but
I don't see why the parties can't set up such formulas for resolving
disputes if they really mean to, and are fully informed.
Finally, if you do settle the case per the B-Bump, this doesn't obviate
the need to address the
Section 4320 factors in your settlement agreement, assuming that spousal support is subject
to modification in the future by agreement or court order as opposed to
nonmodifiable support provisions.
I suspect many family law specialists would vigorously argue with me on
this, for good reason - I hope if the idea of relying on the B-Bump disturbs
you, that you might weigh in with some comments!
Who knows? Maybe one day we will see family court robot judges pronouncing
judgments that, at least, are devoid of emotions!
Thurman W. Arnold, III