California Court Upholds Graduated Reduction of Spousal Support to Zero

As part of a divorce proceeding, the family court often issues an award of monthly spousal support to one of the parties. California law sets forth a variety of factors to weigh in determining the amount of support. It is important to keep in mind, however, that in most cases, this court-ordered amount is not necessarily a permanent figure. Either party may request the court to modify the spousal support by pleading and proving a “material change in circumstances” since the order was issued. Since an award of spousal support can have a dramatic impact on both spouses’ finances after divorce, it is important to ensure that your interests are protected as early as possible in the process. An experienced San Diego family law lawyer can assess your case in accordance with local laws.

In order to successfully modify your spousal support order (either an increase or decrease in the amount), it is helpful to understand how courts view the established standard of a “material change in circumstances.” In a recent case, the husband filed a request to modify or terminate spousal support payments to his ex-wife. The couple got married in 1989 and divorced in 2002. Their marriage lasted for 13 years, they had no children, and each party received over $1 million in assets.

At the time of the divorce, the court awarded the wife spousal support and issued a “Gavron warning” – essentially to let the wife know that her spousal support could be eliminated or reduced unless she undertook a serious effort to find employment and to become self-supporting. In 2008, her spousal support was set at $10,500 per month.

In 2014, the husband filed this court action to terminate or modify spousal support. He alleged that his earnings in 2014 were more than 20% reduced from 2010 and that the wife failed to pursue employment opportunities, as shown by witness and expert testimony. The wife alleged, among other things, that she had applied for part-time jobs (providing a list of vague information regarding job designations) and was unaware that she was obligated to become self-supporting.

The trial court analyzed the factors set forth in Section 4320 of the Family Code, and it also reviewed whether the husband showed a change in circumstances sufficient to warrant a reduction or termination of support. The court found that the husband’s decreased income justified a re-examination of the spousal support order. The court also noted that the wife failed to show that she made efforts to become self-supporting.

In light of each party’s hardships and the wife’s failure to heed the Gavron warning, the trial court ordered a graduated reduction in spousal support to $7,500 per month, then $4,500 as of October 2015 (when the wife is expected to receive Social Security), and “zero” as of October 2017. As part of its ruling, the trial court retained jurisdiction over the issue of spousal support.

The wife appealed, objecting to the scope of the reduction. She argued that the court should not have relied on certain witness testimony. The court of appeals affirmed the decision, concluding, among other things, that the trial court acted properly in considering evidence relating to the wife’s efforts to find employment prior to the 2010 order. The court of appeals commended the trial court for maintaining jurisdiction over this issue in the event that the husband does not retire or manages to increase his income after retirement.

This case, while unpublished and therefore lacking precedential effect, certainly illustrates the numerous legal challenges spouses face when it comes to matters of financial support after divorce. For help with your case, you are encouraged to consult with an experienced family law attorney. 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 and Forney, APLC through the law firm’s website or give us a call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).

Related Blog Posts:

California Court Reviews Ex-Wife’s Claims Under Spousal Support Judgment Lien

California Court Refuses to Grant Request for Modification of Spousal Support

California Court Interprets Divorcing Couple’s Agreement to Terminate Jurisdiction Over Spousal Support

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