Articles Posted in Spousal Support

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Earlier this month, the Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District issued an interesting written opinion in a California spousal maintenance case in which the husband was seeking to terminate a court order that he pay spousal support based on a change in circumstances. The court rejected the husband’s request, however, since it determined that the husband’s transfer of his business to his new wife was done in an attempt to avoid paying spousal support. As a result, the husband was required to keep making spousal support payments into his retirement.

GavelThe Facts of the Case

In 2009, the husband and the wife divorced, and the husband was ordered to pay spousal maintenance payments in the amount of $9,500/month. That figure was later lowered by agreement to $4,000. In 2015, the husband sought to eliminate the payments altogether, claiming that his retirement constituted a change in circumstances.

Prior to his retirement, the husband, a retired police officer, ran a private investigation and security business. He paid himself a salary of approximately $50,000 annually, and the business generated an additional $220,000 in business income each year. The husband claimed that he had retired, and the business was now in the hands of his new spouse.

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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.

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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.

moneyHusband 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.

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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.

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Spousal support (or alimony) is meant to help one spouse maintain a certain level of financial stability after a divorce. In other words, the monthly payments are intended to help the person keep something close to the standard of living that the spouses enjoyed during the marriage. The payments are not necessarily open ended, however. A person who receives spousal support is supposed to make reasonable efforts to become self-supporting, usually by getting a job. But what happens when the person has a medical condition that prevents them from working? That question was recently before the Second District Court of Appeals.

Husband and Wife were married for some 16 years and had three kids before separating in October 2002. They reached a stipulated agreement three years later, under which Wife got sole legal and physical custody over the children. Husband agreed to pay Wife $3,000 per month in child support and another $1,000 in monthly spousal support. The agreement provided that Husband would make the spousal support payments until June 2012, but it stated that the court handling the divorce proceedings could extend that date if needed. As part of the judgment implementing the agreement, the court noted that Wife was expected to return to the workforce – she had a degree in nursing – after “a period of re-training.”money

The trouble, according to the Second District, was that Wife’s job skills were outdated, and she had a difficult time working and raising the kids. She then suffered an undisclosed medical impairment that required surgery and hospitalization. Although Wife was cleared to work in January 2012, she became unable to work again just a month later. Husband and Wife agreed that Husband would increase the spousal support to $1,200 and extend it for another five years. Wife later asked the court to increase the payments to more than $3,800 per month and to extend the support period even further. The trial court declined.

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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.

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California law empowers courts in divorce cases to order that one spouse pay the other monthly support. These support awards are designed to help the spouse receiving them meet monthly expenses and maintain a standard of living similar to the one enjoyed by the spouses during the marriage. As a recent case out of California’s Fourth District Court of Appeals makes clear, courts have a fair amount of power to decide where to set the support level and whether or not to change it down the road.

dollar signHusband and Wife separated in 2009, following some 18 years of marriage. The couple had two children, who were adults by the time the Fourth District took up the case. A trial judge granting their divorce ordered Husband to pay Wife more than $2,700 in spousal support per month and to maintain a $400,000 life insurance policy payable to Wife in the event of his death. The court further explained that Wife was expected to become self-supporting as soon as possible.

Husband later went back to court and convinced the judge to reduce the support award to about $2,000 per month. The judge also decreased the required life insurance coverage to $250,000. That was largely because Wife had become fully employed and was receiving nearly $800 per month in Husband’s pension benefits. The court declined, however, to further reduce the support and insurance requirement based on Husband’s claim that he’d been making payments on his daughter’s student loans. Wife asserted that it was Daughter who was paying some $300 per month on the loans.

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Marital settlement agreements can be useful in many divorce cases because they allow divorcing spouses to decide for themselves how some or all of the issues will be resolved, instead of leaving them for a judge. As a recent case out of California’s Third District Court of Appeals makes clear, however, it is important to make sure that you have all of the information you need in front of you before you sign an agreement. That’s because they’re tough to undo.

Wedding RingsHusband and Wife separated in 2009, following some 26 years of marriage in which the couple had at least one child. Husband went to medical school during the marriage and later became a doctor. Wife was in school pursuing a master’s degree in education at the time of the split. The couple eventually entered into a marital settlement agreement – approved by a court in 2011 – in which Husband pledged to pay Wife $3,750 per month in spousal support. The agreement said Wife’s goal was to become self-supporting and provided that the support payment could potentially be modified starting in 2012.

Wife went back to court in 2012, asking a judge to set aside the 2011 judgment incorporating the settlement agreement. She alleged that Husband had concealed payments to a retirement account during the negotiations leading up to the agreement. The trial court found no evidence to support that claim. It also said Wife was too late. State law required her to seek the set aside within one year from the date on which she knew or should have known about Husband’s alleged fraud. In this case, Wife asked for the set aside nearly a year after the judgement was entered and more than a year after the couple reached the agreement.

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There are a number of factors that go into a court’s decision about whether to order one divorcing spouse to pay the other spousal support. One of them is the receiving spouse’s age. The other is his or her ability to work. So what happens when the person is old enough to stop working? California’s Fourth District Court of Appeals recently explained that a spouse has the right to retire and may be able to get spousal support if he or she exercises that right.

Wedding RingsHusband and Wife separated in March 2014, following some 13 years of marriage. Husband was 68 years old at the time, and Wife was 66. Both spouses had retired from their jobs as a firefighter and a personal assistant in a real estate office, respectively. Although Wife was also a license real estate agent, she never used her license. The court said the spouses agreed that it was Husband who had urged Wife to retire so that the two could travel. A trial court judge eventually ordered Husband to pay Wife $4,000 per month in spousal support.

Affirming the decision on appeal, the Fourth District said Wife had the right to retire during the marriage and to remain retired following the divorce. State law instructs family courts to consider a list of factors in deciding whether to award spousal support and how to set the award. Among those factors are the spouses’ ages and the goal that each spouse had in becoming self-supporting. In this case, the Court said the trial judge didn’t abuse his discretion by simply deciding that Wife’s age outweighed the need for Wife to become self-supporting.

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Divorce proceedings are much like other types of litigation. As in other cases, divorcing spouses are required to provide each other with certain information during the course of the proceedings in order to make sure that each side knows what they are getting into. State law allows a judge to go back and undo a ruling if he or she finds that a spouse has withheld information about their income and assets or otherwise committed fraud. California’s Second District Court of Appeals recently took on a case involving this type of fraud allegation.

wedding ringWife filed for divorce from Husband in 2012, following some 24 years of marriage. The spouses entered into a marital settlement agreement, resolving how their property would be divided and waiving their rights to spousal support. Husband later opposed Wife’s request that the divorce court enter a judgment adopting the terms of the agreement. He argued that his attorney didn’t let him read the agreement and that the lawyer incorrectly told him that he wasn’t entitled to spousal support. The court eventually sided with Wife, adopting the agreement. Wife was awarded one of the couple’s homes, and Husband was awarded the other. He was also ordered to pay Wife $12,000 to make up the difference in value of the two properties.

Husband later asked the same court to set aside the decision, claiming that Wife had secured the agreement by fraud. He said in particular that Wife had hidden two vehicles that should have been considered the couple’s community property, didn’t disclose that she had been renting one of the properties to a tenant, and misrepresented the couple’s community interest in Wife’s 401k retirement savings account. The court declined Husband’s request, finding that it wasn’t filed within the six-month deadline provided by California law.

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