California courts typically order one divorcing spouse to pay the other spouse alimony or spousal support in order to help the receiving spouse maintain a certain standard of living similar to that enjoyed during the marriage. Judges take a number of factors into account when considering a request to modify the amount of the support. As a recent case out of the Fourth District Court of Appeals shows, courts have the power to increase spousal support if the paying spouse fails to live up to other obligations.
Husband and Wife separated in 2007, following a 17-year marriage in which the couple had a son. They reached an agreement the following year about how the spouses would divide their property, including a home in San Diego. Husband agreed to pay down a home equity line of credit on the property. Husband also agreed to pay Wife more than $2,100 per month in spousal support and more than $1,700 in child support.
Wife went back to court in 2015, however, asking among other requests that the judge increase the spousal support amount. She explained that Son had since reached the age of 18, and Husband was no longer paying child support. Wife also said that Husband had repeatedly failed to make required payments on the line of credit, which in turn had damaged her credit score. The trial judge agreed to increase the spousal support payments to $4,500 per month.
Affirming the decision on appeal, the Fourth District said the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it decided to increase the support payments. The trial judge noted that there had been a change in circumstances when Son reached the age of 18 and Husband was no longer on the hook for more than $1,700 in monthly child support. The judge also noted that Husband’s income had increased over the same time. Those changes may have been enough to justify the spousal support bump. But the appeals court said the judge was acting to remedy Husband’s breach of good faith in failing to make the line of credit payments, in violation of a previous court order. The trial court “had discretion to modify the spousal agreement in a reasonable manner to remedy what it deemed was [Husband]’s lack of good faith and fair dealing,” the Fourth Circuit said. “Family courts always have jurisdiction to enforce orders and judgments.”
The Fourth Circuit agreed with Husband that the trial court made a mistake when it initially neglected to instruct Wife that she had a responsibility to become self-supporting in a reasonable amount of time. The appeals court found, however, that the judge corrected the mistake by giving Wife the so-called “Gavron warning” later in the proceedings.
If you’re considering a divorce or are grappling with spousal support, child support, and other issues in California, contact San Jose spousal support 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.
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