Having an experienced family law lawyer in your corner doesn’t guarantee success in divorce cases, but it definitely helps. As a recent case out of California’s Second District Court of Appeals shows, courts operate under strict rules and legal precedents, and they place a heavy burden on a person who asks a judge to change or overturn a decision. They’re not likely to bend over backwards to help litigants, even those who don’t have a lawyer.
Husband and Wife separated in 2002, after roughly 16 years of marriage. Three years later, they agreed to a stipulated judgment resolving all of the issues related to the divorce. Husband agreed to pay Wife $1,000 per month in spousal support for 7.5 years. The parties agreed near the end of that period to increase the spousal support to $12,000 and extend the payments another five years in a second stipulated judgment. A little more than a year later, however, Wife filed a motion asking the trial judge to hike the payments up to more than $3,800 per month and to further extend the payment period.
Wife said she was no longer able to work as a nurse due to an injury suffered during a botched surgical procedure before the 2012 order was issued. She said she wasn’t able to get Social Security disability benefits because her attorney had made a mistake in filing the paperwork. Wife proceeded largely without an attorney in the proceedings, even when the trial court urged her to seek counsel. In response, Husband argued that Wife failed to show that her circumstances had changed in the 18 months or so since the latest stipulated judgment. He also said she didn’t provide any evidence about her inability to work or her efforts to get unemployment compensation, disability benefits, or other financial assistance.
The trial court granted Husband’s request to strike any evidence from the record, as well as statements from a written declaration that Wife filed in support of her request that was related to events before the time that the last stipulated judgment was entered. It also refused to listen to Wife’s allegations that Husband had lied to the court, explaining that the threshold issue was whether or not Wife could show a change in circumstances since the judgment was entered. The court later denied Wife’s motion to modify the support award.
Affirming the decision on appeal, the Second District agreed that Wife hadn’t shown a change in circumstances to warrant modifying the spousal support order. “Based on our review of [Wife]’s briefs, we conclude she has waived her appellate contentions by not presenting substantive legal arguments supported by citations to the record and legal authorities,” the Court said. The Court noted that a lower court’s decision is presumed correct and added that it wasn’t the Court’s responsibility to independently search the record for facts supporting Wife’s case. Issues not raised on appeal are considered waived, the Court observed, even for a person who isn’t represented by an attorney on appeal.
If you’re considering seeking a divorce in California or grappling with spousal support and other issues after a divorce, contact San Jose divorce attorney 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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