Seniors, Retirement, and Spousal Support in California Divorce Cases

senior-woman-300x200In 2015, the New York Times reported that, while divorce rates were falling in many groups, they were rising among seniors. According to a Bowling Green State University study reported by usnews.com, the divorce rate among seniors doubled between 1990 and 2010. Divorcing seniors face their own unique set of issues. One of these is the interaction of spousal support and retirement. A recent ruling from the Fourth Appellate District Court offers an important reminder that, just because you are seeking spousal support, that doesn’t diminish your right to retire.

The spouses separated in early 2014 after 12 years of marriage. At the time of their separation, he was 68 and she was 66. He was a retired firefighter. She had worked as a personal assistant for a real estate broker, but had been retired since 2005.

In the divorce action, she sought spousal support. The trial court concluded that the husband had an income of roughly $10,000 per month, while the wife’s income was less than $600 per month. In analyzing the wife’s income, the trial court expressly decided not to impute any income to her. Imputing income to her would be inappropriate because there was no proof “that there were jobs available for which she qualified and could earn an income.” Additionally, the wife was beyond retirement age, actually was retired and had a right to remain so, the court ruled.

The trial court awarded the wife $4,000 per month in support.

The husband appealed but lost. In his appeal case, the husband advanced the argument that a divorcing spouse who seeks an award of support did not have a right to retire but, instead, had an obligation to become as self-supporting as she possibly could.

In the past, California courts have addressed the issue of a supporting spouse’s retirement. In that scenario, the supporting spouse has a right to retire even if his retirement means a reduction in his income and a diminished ability to pay spousal support. In a 1998 case, the court explained that ”no one may be compelled to work after the usual retirement age of 65 in order to pay the same level of spousal support as when he was employed.”

In this case, though, the retirement of the supported spouse, not the supporting spouse, was the issue. The court concluded that the spouse had a right to stay retired. While the statutes do include a provision about a spouse becoming self-supporting, they also instruct the courts to consider the couple’s marital standard of living. The facts of this case made it clear that the wife’s retirement had long been a part of the couple’s marital standard of living. The couple was married from 2001-2014. The wife retired in 2005. Given these facts, it was not unreasonable for the trial court to decide that the wife’s being retired was a part of the marital standard of living and that ordering her to resume working in an effort to become self-supporting would improperly conflict with the marital standard of living.

As you pursue your California divorce, spousal support or other family law case, knowledgeable counsel can help. The skilled San Diego family law attorneys at Doppelt & Forney have been representing clients throughout Southern California, including in San Diego, Encinitas, La Jolla, and Chula Vista for many years in achieving positive results in spousal support cases. For a free consultation, reach out to Roy M. Doppelt & Associates through our website or call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).

More blog posts:

California Wife Entitled to Compensation After Husband’s Waiver of Military Pension Cuts off Payments, San Diego Divorce Lawyer Blog, Nov. 22, 2016

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