Things often change after a divorce, whether it’s one spouse moving to another town, city, or state, or the other starting a new family. In some cases, the circumstances change so much that it may be necessary to get the court that granted the divorce to modify parts of the decision, including on issues like child custody and spousal support. In California, the law allows spouses who divorced after a “long-term” marriage to go directly back to the original court when necessary to update or alter a judgment. A recent case out of the state’s Sixth District Court of Appeals is an example of how that system works.
Husband and Wife were divorced in September 2012, ending a more than 30-year marriage. At the time, the court that ordered the marriage to be dissolved did not award spousal support to either party, but it specifically retained jurisdiction to consider spousal support in the future.
Wife later sought to modify the order, claiming that she needed spousal support because she had become disabled and was unable to pay rent. She further asserted that her monthly expenses ran to about $14,000 per month and that she made just less than that in disability income and money from babysitting work. Husband, meanwhile, told the court he was earning about $95,000 per year.
Noting that the marriage had spanned three decades and finding that Wife was in need of support, a trial court ordered Husband to pay her $500 per month initially, with the figure kicking up to $950 in February 2014. The court later denied Husband’s motion for reconsideration.
Affirming the decision on appeal, the Sixth District rejected Husband’s argument that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to award spousal support well after the court had dissolved the marriage. The Court explained that Section 4336 of the state Family Code clearly provides that trial courts retain jurisdiction “indefinitely” in cases involving a “marriage of long duration,” or those lasting at least 10 years.
The Court also disagreed with Husband’s claim that the original order – in which the trial court didn’t award any spousal support – couldn’t be changed, absent a finding that one of the parties had committed fraud or mistake or had failed to disclose pertinent information related to the divorce and support issues. This argument, the court said, “exalted form over substance.”
“Wife was not trying to set aside the judgment but modifying it to provide for spousal support based on a change of circumstances,” the Court concluded. “The trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding that wife was in need of support and husband had the income to pay it.”
If you’re considering seeking a divorce in California, contact San Jose divorce lawyer John S. Yohanan. With more than 30 years of experience, Mr. Yohanan is an accomplished family law attorney who has helped a number of clients resolve a wide variety of issues, including those related to spousal support, on optimal terms. Call our office at (408) 297-0700 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.
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