Under the California Family Code, when a couple gets divorced, the court is empowered to award spousal support. The law sets forth a variety of factors for the court to weigh in determining the amount to be awarded and to whom. One of the more widely known factors is the couple’s “marital standard of living” at the time of separation. But contrary to what many may believe, the standard of living is but one factor for the court to consider, along with many others, such as: the marketable skills of the supported party; the extent to which earning capacity is affected by periods of unemployment due to the undertaking of domestic responsibilities; the ability to pay spousal support; the obligations and assets of each party; the duration of the marriage; the age and health of the parties; and the ability of the person receiving support to obtain gainful employment. An experienced family law attorney would be able to evaluate your situation in accordance with the statutory code.
In a recent California divorce case, the wife sought to modify (increase) the award of spousal support, citing health issues and an injury from a car accident. Here, the parties were married for 22 years when they separated in 2009. In 2011, a divorce judgment was entered. The court awarded the wife $3,123 in monthly child support and $2,250 in spousal support. The child support would elapse once their children became emancipated. The ruling included a Gavron warning, which advised the wife that she was required to undertake reasonable efforts to pursue permanent, full-time employment. The judgment also made clear that the removal of child support would not amount to a “change in circumstances” sufficient to warrant a modification of spousal support.
According to the court, the wife “delayed looking for work” and was later in a car accident in 2013. She then filed this motion for modification of support. The trial court looked at a variety of factors under Section 4320 of the Family Code, and it concluded that: 1) she was not disabled from gainful employment (even though she was afflicted with pain); 2) she had “sophisticated marketable skills and abilities”; and 3) she did not diligently engage in the process of pursuing employment. The court further determined that her imputed income was more than $40,000 per year. Based on these conclusions, the court did increase spousal support but only from $2,250 to $3,000 per month. The wife appealed, arguing that the increase in spousal support was too low and not supported by the evidence.
She alleged a variety of errors: that the trial judge was biased, that she was denied due process, that her husband failed to comply with discovery, and that the expert testimony was manipulated. The court of appeals rejected these arguments, finding no evidence to support her claims. The wife argued that the support order should be increased to $5,250 a month, the total amount she received before the children were emancipated.
Ultimately, the court denied the wife’s claim, rejecting her argument that spousal support should be on par with the standard of living she enjoyed during the marriage. The court pointed out that one’s standard of living is but one of the many factors set forth under California law. In evaluating the total factors, the court affirmed the award.
While the decision was unpublished by the courts, the ultimate ruling could still serve to inform cases within the jurisdiction. The court was not convinced that the wife was entitled to more than the amount ordered by the trial court. The wife was not represented by counsel in this matter. This outcome illustrates the need to consult with an experienced family law attorney before pursuing a legal matter in a divorce case. For more than 20 years, Roy M. Doppelt has been representing clients in divorce matters 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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