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Length of Marriage and Duty to Find Work in California Spousal Support Cases – In re Marriage of Swanson

Spousal support, or alimony, 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 following a split. A judge considering a request for such support looks at a number of factors, including one spouse’s need and the other’s ability to pay. Judges also consider the standard of living during the marriage, how long the couple was married, and whether the person seeking support has made reasonable efforts to become self-sufficient. It’s that last factor on which the Court of Appeals for the Fourth District recently focused in a case stemming from a long-term marriage during which one spouse did not work.

new-5-1474097Husband and Wife had eight children over the course of a 25-year marriage before Husband filed for divorce in 2010. He was working as a doctor at the time. Wife, who was a nurse before the couple married, stayed home to care for the kids during the marriage. The spouses agreed on how they would split their property, and a trial court ordered Husband to temporarily pay Wife $5,000 per month in spousal support. The trial court later reduced that amount to $4,100. It also awarded Husband custody over the couple’s four minor children and ordered Wife to pay Husband more than $1,300 in child support.

Wife argued on appeal that the trial court failed to account for the long-term nature of the marriage in setting the spousal support award. The Fourth District disagreed. It said the trial court “fully acknowledged and considered [Wife]’s contributions to the parties’ long-term marriage and her disadvantage in the job market based on her marital contributions.” The trial court specifically found that Wife’s decision to stay at home had a “big impact” on her ability to work following the divorce.

The lower court also noted, however, that Wife was in good physical health and able to work. The court nevertheless found that she had done little to seek steady employment since the couple split. “It was reasonable for the court to (mildly) fault [Wife] for not having taken serious steps to secure a job (other than sporadic part-time, temporary positions) or job retraining (whether in nursing or otherwise) more than two and one half years after the petition was filed,” the appeals court concluded.

The Fourth District also said other factors supported the trial court’s support award. It reduced Husband’s income for calculation purposes, for example, because he’d taken out more than $800,000 on an equity line of credit to make an equalization payment to Wife for property that was to be split between them and to meet “other pressing household and business expenses.” It also noted that Husband was the “sole provider” for the household, including two children in college and another three attending private schools.

As a result, the Fourth District affirmed the trial court’s decision.

If you’re considering a divorce or are grappling with spousal support and other issues 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 marital disputes. Call our office at (408) 297-0700 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.

Related blog posts:

Standard of Living in California Spousal Support Cases – In re Marriage of Rood and Thompson

Pre-Divorce Agreements and Financial Disclosures in California Divorce Cases – In re Marriage of Evans

Income and Spousal Support in California Divorce Cases – In re Marriage of Whalen