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How Pensions and Benefits Affect Spousal Support in California

California courts look at a number of factors in deciding whether to award spousal support in a divorce case. These include the ability of the spouse seeking support to make money and become self-supporting. A court has to find that the circumstances have sufficiently changed in order to alter the spousal support award later down the road. As a recent case out of California’s Second District Court of Appeals shows, the fact that the receiving spouse is now getting money from other sources – like a pension or Social Security benefits – may not be enough.

dollar billHusband and Wife were married for some 24 years before a court granted their divorce in 2009. Husband was making about $7,000 per month at the time, while Wife – who had not worked since the couple got married – had no income. A judge ordered Husband to pay Wife $1,700 in spousal support. Husband also paid Wife $125,000 for her share of the family home, which he kept. Wife later moved to Miami, where she said she wasn’t able to find work.

Husband went back to court about five years later and asked a judge to eliminate his spousal support obligation. He explained that Wife was now eligible to receive payments from two of his pensions and would soon be eligible for Social Security benefits. He also argued that Wife hadn’t made a reasonable effort to find work. Wife later acknowledged that she was receiving about $1,800 per month in pension payments and Social Security benefits. She asserted, however, that she couldn’t find a job because she had been out of the workforce for some three decades, had a third-grade education, and was not a fluent English speaker.

The trial court decided against eliminating the spousal support award. Instead, the judge lowered the payments to $1,100. Affirming the decision on appeal, the Second District said the trial court didn’t abuse its discretion.

The appeals court noted that the judge imputed $320 in weekly income – the money the court said she could have made by working – when it first set the spousal support award. “It was reasonable for the trial court to conclude that [Wife]’s Social Security and pension income replaced the income she might have made from working, rather than substituting entirely for her spousal support,” the Court said. The Second District also pointed out that Husband’s monthly income had shot up by about $2,000 since the original award.

Spousal support is just one of the complicated legal issues that can come up when a couple decides to divorce. If you’re considering a divorce or are grappling with child support and other issues in California, 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 a wide variety of marital disputes. Call our office at (408) 297-0700 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.

Related Blog Posts:

Retirement Income and Spousal Support – In re Marriage of McKarus

Getting Divorced in California? Another Reason Why You Need a Lawyer – In re Marriage of Hendrix

Valuing a Spouse’s Business in California Divorce Cases – In re Marriage of Caldwell