California law allows a court to order one divorcing spouse to pay the other spouse monthly support to help the person maintain a certain standard of living enjoyed during the marriage. The law also makes clear, however, that divorcing spouses are expected to make good-faith efforts to support themselves and to meet their own expenses. The state’s Fourth District Court of Appeals recently explained how those two principles work together.
Husband and Wife separated in 2004, following approximately 18 years of marriage. They eventually entered into a marital settlement agreement detailing how they would split their assets as part of their divorce. Husband was awarded the family home and agreed to pay Wife nearly $150,000 to cover her interest in the property.
The former couple couldn’t agree about whether and how much spousal support Husband should pay Wife. In the trial that followed, it was disclosed that Husband was bringing in about $7,500 per month in income, and Wife was making about $3,500 per month. The trial court ordered Husband to pay Wife $1,000 per month in support. It observed that Husband had some health problems and that he’d said he wanted to retire once he reached the age of 62, in 2011. The court said it would be open to reconsidering spousal support at that time.
Husband retired in 2013, stopped paying the monthly support, and petitioned the court to reduce his monthly obligation to $0. In the time since the original order, Wife had lost her job as an electronics assembler and wasn’t able to find new work for more than a year. She took out a loan to meet expenses and cashed out her share of retirement and other money to buy a condo in Las Vegas, where she found part-time work as a care giver. After retiring, Husband began receiving about $2,500 in Social Security benefits. That was $800 more than his monthly expenses. Wife, on the other hand, was bringing in about $600 less than her monthly expenses. The trial court agreed to reduce Husband’s support obligation but did not eliminate it. Instead, the court ordered Husband to pay Wife $600 per month. The court also warned Wife that she had a duty under the law to make good-faith efforts to become self-supporting.
Affirming the decision on appeal, the Fourth District said the trial court didn’t abuse its discretion. The judge took note that the spouses had been married for 18 years and that Husband had been on the hook for support for only eight years so far. The trial judge also found that both former spouses had done their best to try to meet their individual expenses, but Wife wasn’t yet able to do so, the Court recounted. “The evidence in the record supports the court’s findings and, given the circumstances, we conclude it did not abuse its discretion in reducing rather than terminating Steve’s spousal support obligations,” the Court said.
If you’re considering divorce or are grappling with spousal support and other issues in California, 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 a wide variety of marital disputes. Call our office at (408) 297-0700 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.
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