Spousal support, or alimony, is a form of compensation that courts often award in California divorce cases to help one divorcing spouse meet expenses and maintain a certain living standard following a divorce. It may be temporary or permanent, and a court may decide to modify or terminate the support if it finds there’s been a material change in circumstances for one or both of the former spouses. A recent case out of California’s Second District Court of Appeals explains the type of changes that might justify changing a support award.
Husband and Wife separated and later divorced in 2011, putting an end to their roughly 27-year marriage. They reached an agreement, through which Husband pledged to pay Wife monthly spousal support in the amount of $1,950. The terms of the agreement made clear that those payments could be modified in the event that Husband retired or Wife completed nursing school.
Wife finished her schooling and found a job about seven months after the former spouses entered into the agreement. When Husband retired in 2013, she also started getting half of his monthly pension benefits. Those two sources of income totaled about $8,000 per month. Wife also received a $128,000 payment from Husband’s retirement account to go toward her own retirement.
It was around this time that Husband asked a trial judge to terminate the spousal support obligation. He told the court that he was bringing in roughly $8,700 per month but had expenses that totaled more than $9,000. In the proceedings that followed, Husband explained that he’d earned a private investigator license but had not yet secured any clients for his new career. Instead, his income was derived from retirement payments and workers’ compensation benefits. Wife told the court that she was living with her boyfriend and said her expenses ran at less than $4,000 per month. Nevertheless, the trial judge denied the request. The judge said that Husband failed to show that the circumstances had changed to such an extent that it warranted reducing or terminating the spousal support.
The Second District reversed the decision on appeal. The Court said the evidence appeared to show a clear change in circumstances that would justify reducing or eliminating the spousal support payments. In fact, the Court said Wife had even seemed to concede that some sort of modification was warranted, admitting that she was making more money than Husband after accounting for expenses. She said she wasn’t using the spousal support money to pay those expenses and instead was banking it to save for a house. “On this record, we conclude that the trial court abused its discretion by not ordering at least a meaningful downward modification of some sort,” the Court said.
If you’re considering seeking a divorce in California or grappling with support and other issues after a divorce, contact San Jose spousal support 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 spousal support 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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