Without a Transcript, Court Has Limited Authority to Review Spousal Support Decision

courthouse-1330873-m.jpgCouples facing divorce most certainly have a great deal on their minds, such as the financial and emotional wellbeing of their family members after the parties go their separate ways. There are many practical considerations to address, such as how to evenly divide the marital property and who gets spousal support (and how much). Many of these issues are governed by California law, which can become quite complicated in the midst of trying to sort through the emotional turmoil of divorce. To ensure that you are adequately presenting your case and protecting your financial rights, it is important to contact a local San Diego family law attorney, someone with a great deal of experience representing parties in divorce.

As mentioned above, the issue of spousal support can affect both parties in significant ways, both the supported and the supporting spouse, and it’s easy to see why it often becomes a hotly contested issue in dissolution proceedings. Section 4320 of the California Family Code sets forth a variety of factors for courts to take into account when determining the amount of spousal support. Once a trial court awards spousal support, one party or the other may seek to modify that award some time in the future, citing a “material change in circumstances.” This means something significant has changed since the spousal support order was made.

In a recent California case, In re Marriage of Gartman, stemming from an original divorce judgment rendered in 2008, the ex-wife petitioned the court to modify the support order, arguing that she experienced a change in circumstances warranting an increase in the award. Specifically, the ex-wife claimed that when the trial court issued the original order, she was receiving investment income at approximately $8,333 per month and had real estate worth an estimated $700,000. In September 2011, the ex-wife claimed that she was no longer receiving monthly income from the investment property and that she could no longer maintain the marital standard of living.

The ex-husband opposed the motion, arguing (among other things) that his financial condition was much worse now than it was in 2008 when the original award was rendered. He further argued that his ex-wife’s lack of the monthly investment property distributions was not a changed circumstance justifying modification of support. Instead, he claimed that it was considered a “fixed asset” and identified as her “separate property.” Both parties presented evidence of their monthly income and expenses for the court to review. The trial court denied the ex-wife’s request to modify spousal support, pointing out that the change she cited is actually a change in her income. It is the depletion and loss of income from an asset that was awarded to her as separate property. The ex-wife appealed, arguing that the court misapplied the law.

The court of appeals quickly pointed out that the ex-wife chose to proceed without a court reporter at the trial on her motion. Under such circumstances, the court indicated that there was no reporter’s transcript, which precluded the court from reviewing the evidence presented at trial. Therefore, the court was obligated to “conclusively presume that whatever evidence was necessary to sustain the court’s decision was adduced at trial.”

Unfortunately for the ex-wife, the court of appeals was without the proper authority to fully review her appeal on the merits. While this is an unpublished decision, the underlying legal principles may still serve to inform courts in this jurisdiction. To ensure that your rights are fully protected in a divorce proceeding, you are encouraged to reach out to an experienced family law attorney as early in the process as possible. Roy M. Doppelt has been representing clients in divorce matters in Southern California for more than 20 years. Doppelt & Forney represents families throughout Southern California. For a free consultation with a dedicated and experienced family lawyer, contact Doppelt & Forney through the firm’s website or give us a call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).

Related Blog Posts:

California Family Law Guides Courts in Ordering Spousal Support

Modification of Spousal Support Depends on Need and the Ability to Pay

Court Denied Ex-Husband’s Request to Reduce Spousal Support Payments