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How Length of Marriage Impacts Spousal Support – In re Marriage of Abrew

Courts look at a number of factors when they decide whether to order one spouse to pay alimony or support to the other following a divorce. They also consider various factors when the paying spouse asks for the order to be changed or terminated. One of those factors is how long the spouses were married, California’s First District Court of Appeals recently explained.

money-607703-mHusband and Wife filed for divorce in 2000. A judge the following year awarded Wife physical custody of the couple’s two boys. The judge also ordered Husband to pay Wife more than $1,000 in child support and more than $400 in spousal support. That arrangement continued until 2004, when Husband took temporary physical custody of the children. The First District explained that Wife had been in a relationship that involved domestic abuse, which motivated the custody shift.

When Husband asked the court to give him custody of the kids, he also asked the judge to terminate his child support obligation. The judge granted the request temporarily. Husband and Wife eventually came up with a parenting plan under which the kids would remain with Husband and the parents would share legal custody. They also agreed to eventually share physical custody of the kids once Wife found a place to live in a “safe environment.” Wife had not regained custody of the children by the time Husband asked a court to terminate his spousal support obligation in 2014. The court granted that request.

Affirming the decision on appeal, the First District said the circumstances had changed in a way that justified reconsidering the spousal support award. The appeals court also said the trial judge didn’t abuse his discretion by finding that the support should be terminated. The court noted that California law presumes that a person receiving spousal support will become self-supporting “in a reasonable period of time.” In fact, the law says that time period “generally shall be one-half the length of the marriage.” Because Husband and Wife were married for eight years, the Court said it was reasonable to expect the support to be terminated in four years.

The court noted that Husband admitted that he stopped paying spousal support for several years after the custody switch. It also said that he had already been ordered to pay Wife more than $60,000 to make up for that. “When [Husband] took on the responsibility of caring for the children, he decided to relieve himself of the burden of making spousal support for a lengthy period,” the Court said. “Ultimately he paid a price for that unilateral decision.”

“At the end of the day, [Wife] will have received payments for approximately 13 years,” the Court said.

If you’re considering divorce or are grappling with spousal support, community property and other related 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.

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