Spousal support is a monthly payment made by one divorcing spouse to the other in order to help the person maintain a certain level of financial security. A judge considering whether to order spousal support – and how much to order – usually looks at the receiving spouse’s need for the money to meet basic expenses and the paying spouse’s ability to make the payments. If asked to modify or terminate the payments, the judge will typically consider whether those circumstances have changed. Such changes may include retirement, a new job, remarriage, and new financial responsibilities. As a recent decision out of California’s First District Court of Appeals makes clear, however, “it’s time” isn’t a good enough reason to terminate payments.
Husband and Wife divorced in November 1995 after nearly 30 years of marriage. At some point in the litigation that followed, a judge ordered that the spousal support Husband was paying Wife be reduced to $100 per month. A court later denied Wife’s request to increase the support award to $700 per month, finding that she failed to file any evidence regarding her current income and expenses.
In April 2014, however, the court granted Husband’s request to terminate the payments altogether. In support of the request, Husband said he was nearly 68 years old and had about $4,750 in monthly income from social security disability and retirement benefits. He said he had expenses of about $5,300 per month, $800 of which was being paid by others. The court observed as follows: “We’re now 19 years post separation. Doesn’t look like very much has changed relative to either one of you. Does that sound about right? At some point in time the support—the support is minimal in any event. At some point in time support has got to terminate.” Despite the lack of any change in circumstances, the judge said “it still appears to me it’s time that the spousal support order be terminated.”
Reversing the decision on appeal, the First District said the lower court abused its discretion in terminating the support order. “The court cited no reason other than ‘it’s time,’” the appeals court noted. “This is not a statutory reason for termination of spousal support after a 30-year marriage.” Instead, the Court said that the trial judge was required to look to Family Code Section 4320, which lays out the factors to consider in deciding whether to modify or terminate a support award. Those factors include the parties’ earning capacities, one spouse’s contribution to the other’s education and training, the duration of the marriage, and the needs of each spouse based on the standard of living during the marriage.
As a result, the First District reversed the decision and remanded the case back to the trial court for further proceedings.
If you’re considering seeking a divorce in California or grappling with support and other issues after a divorce, 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 property disposition and a wide variety of other issues on optimal terms. Call our office at (408) 297-0700 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.
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