A family court judge retains a certain amount of discretion when deciding whether to order spousal support in a divorce case. Of course, the court must follow statutory guidelines when making that determination. Section 4330 of the California Family Code sets forth the court’s authority to issue an award of spousal support, and Section 4320 identifies a slew of factors that courts must consider and weigh. It is important to understand that the purpose of spousal support varies from case to case, including whether the need exists and to what extent. To be sure that your rights are protected when it comes to any matter arising in a divorce proceeding, you are encouraged to seek the assistance of an experienced family law lawyer in the local San Diego area.
Every divorce case presents a unique set of circumstances. In weighing the facts and equities of each case, a court may decide to award long-term and/or open-ended financial support, support for a short or finite number of years, or none at all. Integral to any award or lack thereof is the court’s review of the statutory factors discussed above. In a recent case, the husband argued that the trial court based its decision not to award him spousal support solely on a domestic violence restraining order entered against him, rather than taking a comprehensive look at the various factors.
Here, the parties were married in 1986 and separated in 2013, at which time the wife filed for divorce. In October 2014, before the court issued a judgment, the wife filed a request for a domestic violence restraining order. The court granted a temporary restraining order (“TRO”). Later that month, the court entered a dissolution judgment, dividing the couple’s assets and debts, but it reserved jurisdiction on the issue of spousal support. The court pointed out that it would review several factors, including the husband’s ability to find work and whether he was in fact disabled.
In November 2014, the husband petitioned the court for spousal support, citing the length of the marriage and his lack of employability. The husband claimed he was disabled. He failed to provide documentation regarding his job search efforts, and any documentation concerning his disability status did not show that he was disabled. The wife opposed his request for spousal support, citing the restraining order against the husband as well as his ability to support himself. Under Section 4320, mentioned above, courts will look at the marketable skills of the supported party, the needs of each party (based on the marital standard of living), the obligations and assets of each party, the duration of the marriage, the ability of the supported spouse to find gainful employment, the age and health of the parties, evidence of domestic violence, and other factors.
The trial court denied the husband’s motion, concluding that the husband’s “purported disability did not prevent him from finding employment.” The husband appealed. After reviewing the record below, as well as the evidence of the statutory factors, the court of appeals affirmed the decision. The court concluded that the lower court’s decision to deny spousal support was not based solely (or even mainly) on the restraining order. In fact, the decision was based on the husband’s ability to support himself: his relative youth, non-disability related retirement, and the denial of Social Security disability benefits.
Although this is an unpublished decision, the court’s reasoning and holding may serve to inform later cases in this jurisdiction. Clearly, it helps to understand how a court views the statutory framework as it applies to significant financial issues in divorce. 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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