When a couple decides to divorce, the court may order one party to pay to the other a certain amount of money in support for a specified period of time. Section 4320 of the California Family Code sets forth a multitude of factors for courts to consider when deciding whether (and to what extent) to order spousal support. Established case law suggests that ordering support is “an exercise of equitable discretion,” requiring a court to weigh all of the statutory items, and not simply one or two. Unfortunately, spouses often argue over the amount of spousal support to be awarded in connection with a divorce proceeding. If you are considering a separation or divorce, it is important to protect your financial rights. An experienced San Diego family law attorney would be able to review your case to prepare the best strategy under the circumstances.
In a recent case, In re Marriage of Hayden, the husband sought a downward modification of the amount of spousal support. Here, the couple was married for seven years when the wife filed for divorce. They were both in their 50s and did not have any children. The husband was employed, and the wife was not. The court awarded the wife $5,500 a month in spousal support, in addition to 31% of the husband’s bonuses and commissions, from September 2013 terminating at the end of December 2016. Before the final judgment was entered, the husband filed a petition to reduce spousal support based on the wife’s new employment, at which she would be earning $7,500 per month.
Once the court entered the final judgment, it reviewed the husband’s modification request and determined that he was entitled to a reduction in spousal support due to the wife’s new job. While the court eliminated the wife’s entitlement to 31% of the husband’s commissions and bonuses, it decided to keep the monthly support payments at $5,500 through December 2016. The husband appealed, arguing that the court failed to issue a statement of decision, which would result in reversible error, and that the court failed to consider the statutory factors, in particular his wife’s need for support. Husband claimed that the court only looked at one aspect of the Section 4320 factors — the parties’ lifestyle during the marriage — in ruling on his motion. He argued that the court should have paid more attention to his wife’s new earning capacity.
The court of appeals ultimately held that both arguments lacked merit and affirmed the lower court’s decision. First, the court determined that the husband failed to request a statement of decision prior to submission, and therefore, under state law, he was not entitled to one. Secondly, the court pointed out that the reduction in support was “not insignificant” – that it amounted to a reduction of $4,300 per month (the 31% of commissions and bonuses that was taken away). Without a statement of decision, the court of appeals could find nothing in the record that would suggest that the lower court failed to take into account all of the Section 4320 factors in rendering its award. While the husband raised several other arguments, the court found them to be without merit and upheld the downward modification as mentioned above.
While this is an unpublished decision in California, and parties may not rely on or cite to it in future cases, the court’s reasoning could certainly inform later family law proceedings in this jurisdiction. In any event, the case nicely illustrates the importance of understanding the intricacies of the state’s family code and how it applies to each unique divorce case.
Roy M. Doppelt has been representing clients with divorce matters in Southern California for more than 20 years. Doppelt & Forney represents families in Linda Vista, Encinitas, Scripps Ranch, San Diego, and throughout Southern California. For a free consultation with a dedicated and experienced family lawyer, contact Doppelt & Forney through the law firm’s website or give us a call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).
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