California Appeals Court Upholds Decision Denying Wife Retroactive Support Despite Expert Testimony

Witness standIn your spousal support case, there are many elements that go into achieving a successful outcome, whether you are seeking support or defending against your ex-spouse’s demand for support. As with many disputes in family law, one of the most important factors is having testimony that is more credible than your ex-spouse’s. One example is a recent case originating in Orange County, where the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled against a wife, stating that the trial judge in her case was free to credit or ignore the testimony of her expert witness, even if that testimony was “undisputed.”

The couple, Steven Geeting and Ella Jones-Geeting, married in 2003 and separated late in 2011. When the pair divorced, they disputed several things, including spousal support. The wife put an economic expert on the stand who testified that the husband made tens of thousands of dollars more per year than he claimed and that the husband owed the wife more than $48,000 in retroactive temporary support.

The trial court, however, did not accept the expert’s testimony, finding the husband’s income was actually the much lower amount that the husband claimed. The court also pointed out that the husband was a lawyer who was in declining health, was wrapping up his practice, and was planning to retire within a year. The wife, on the other hand, was a decade younger, had a nursing certificate, and was voluntarily unemployed.

Based on all this evidence, the trial court ordered the husband to pay the wife $3,000 per month for 12 months and $1,500 per month for another eight months. The court awarded no retroactive support.

The wife appealed this ruling, arguing in the appellate court that the trial judge was wrong to look past the “undisputed testimony” of her expert witness. Additionally, the wife claimed that the trial court did not properly take into account her needs or the husband’s ability to pay.

The appeals court was unpersuaded and upheld the trial court’s decision. Trial courts do have the authority to modify temporary support retroactively. With these decisions, just like all support determinations, the outcome comes down to the recipient spouse’s need and the paying spouse’s ability to pay. In this couple’s case, the husband’s ability to pay was diminished by the fact that he held around $150,000 of debt and was only a year away from retirement (and a substantial reduction in income). The wife’s case regarding need was weakened by the fact that she “had both the capacity and qualifications to work and should be working,” but she was not working.

Additionally, the trial court’s decision to discount the expert’s testimony was not an error. The status of the expert’s testimony as disputed or undisputed was irrelevant. Trial courts have the authority and the duty to decide which witnesses are credible and which are not, and the law imposes no demand on a trial court to believe an expert’s testimony, even when it is undisputed.

In your support case, as well as any other type of family law case, success or a lack thereof often comes down to whether or not you have the more believable proof on your side. Your California family law attorney can provide you with invaluable aid in taking the pieces of your case and putting them together in a compelling and persuasive presentation. The experienced San Diego divorce attorneys at Doppelt & Forney are here to serve the needs of clients throughout Southern California, including in San Diego, Encinitas, La Jolla, and Chula Vista. For a free consultation, reach out to Doppelt & Forney through our website or call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).

More blog posts:

California Court Underscores Mandatory Guidelines in Determining Spousal Support, San Diego Divorce Lawyer Blog, June 14, 2016

California Court Denies Husband’s Motion for Spousal Support, San Diego Divorce Lawyer Blog, March 8, 2016