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Court Refuses to Retroactively Apply Permanent Spousal Support Order in Recent California Divorce Case

Timing can be very important in California divorce cases. In some situations, a party’s failure to raise an issue in a timely manner can preclude that party from seeking certain relief down the road. A recent appellate decision issued by California’s Fourth Appellate District illustrates the difficulties one spouse had in requesting that the court’s order requiring spousal support be retroactively applied as of the date of the dissolution.

marriage certificateThe Facts of the Case

In May 2014, a wife filed for dissolution of her 22-year-long marriage to her husband. When the wife filed the application for dissolution, she checked the box on the form indicating that she would be seeking spousal support. As is common in California divorce cases, the couple attended a mandatory settlement conference, where several issues were resolved; the issue of spousal support, however, was left for trial.

The wife filed a formal brief with the court, seeking permanent spousal support; however, nowhere in the brief did the wife request temporary support be ordered in the interim. In the following July, the parties agreed that the husband would pay $800 a month in spousal support to the wife. The agreement took effect on July 1, 2015, and it left open the issue of whether the spousal support order would be retroactive.

The judge overseeing the case determined that the order of spousal support could not be made retroactive. The court explained that there are two types of spousal support in California. The first, temporary spousal support, or Pendente lite, is designed to ensure that the requesting spouse is able to live in the manner to which he or she is accustomed during the pendency of the dissolution. Under California law, courts have discretion when issuing Pendente lite support.

The other type of California spousal support is permanent spousal support. This issuance of permanent spousal support is dictated by California Family Code section 4333. Section 4333 allows retroactive benefits only from the date that the requesting party files a motion or order to show cause. Here, the court explained that section 4333 does not permit the wife’s request to apply the permanent spousal support order retroactively because the wife never filed a motion or order to show cause. Instead, the wife entered into an agreement with the husband with an effective date of July 1, 2015. Thus, the court held there was no date available to back-date the wife’s request.

The court explained, however, that if the wife had requested temporary spousal benefits during the pendency of the dissolution proceedings, the court would have been able to apply the support order retroactively. This is because section 4333 does not apply to temporary spousal support orders, which are left largely to the discretion of the presiding judge.

Are You Considering Filing for Divorce in California?

If you are considering filing for divorce or seeking spousal support in California, you should seek the counsel of a dedicated Bay Area divorce attorney to assist you in the preparation of your case. While some divorce proceedings are straightforward, more often than not, unanticipated issues arise. Attorney John S. Yohanan has over 30 years of experience practicing Bay Area family law, and he recognizes that each case is unique and diligently works to secure a favorable outcome for his clients. Call 408-297-0700 to schedule a free consultation with attorney John S. Yohanan today.

Related Blog Posts:

California Child Custody Cases: Gauging Best Interests, Bay Area Divorce Attorney Blog, August 31, 2017

Marital Settlement Agreements are Tough to Undo in California, Bay Area Divorce Attorney Blog, July 31, 2017