Questions often arise about spousal support modification and termination when ex-spouses were married for a long time and have paid many years of support. In many situations, the spouse paying alimony has been told by prior counsel that they have to pay support in the future with no time limits.
Sometimes it is possible to end spousal support. A good family law attorney, such as the ones at Bohm Wildish & Matsen, will create a support reduction or elimination strategy based on the case history and the judgment or marital settlement agreement.
In recent years, several appellate courts have decided cases based on the idea that alimony, by nature, is temporary in nearly all situations. Basically, spousal support is meant to come to an end.
An effective strategy usually starts by assessing what your judgment said about you and your former spouse’s marital standard of living, and the length and malleability of the support. It’s common to think alimony can’t be modified when in reality it is adjustable. Your attorney should check if there was a “Gavron Warning” included in the judgment. A Gavron Warning is an admonition the court makes that requires the supported spouse to become self-sustaining within a reasonable amount of time.
Spousal support is meant to come to an end.
In marriages lasting less than 10 years, a reasonable amount of time is considered half the marriage’s length. This is defined as starting the date of marriage and ending on the date of separation.
Marriages that last longer than 10 years follow different rules when determining spousal support. Numerous appellate courts and California Family Code Section 4320 state that the supported spouse should become self-supporting as soon as reasonably possible if the marriage lasted 10 years or longer. Anything or anyone saying California requires lifetime support is false.
When an attorney takes on your case to modify alimony, he or she should look into what the supported spouse has done to move towards self-sufficiency. Whether it’s been four or 14 years since your divorce, your ex-spouse should show progress towards self-sustainability.
After the assessment, your attorney will work to bring the case to court. If the former spouse has increased their earnings, you would argue they need less alimony. If they have not begun working, you should request a vocational examination to determine your ex-spouse’s ability to work. This is also when you would ask for a Gavron Warning if one has not been requested in the past.
A recent court ruling found that a spouse with separate assets obtained through the divorce settlement or separately held that are sufficient to meet his or her needs, the court must take them into account and order alimony accordingly.
If your income has increased, don’t worry about paying more in alimony. The law states that the marital standard of living determines support, not your increased income (In re Marriage of Hoffmeister [Hoffmeister II] (1987) 191 Cal.App.3d 351, 236 Cal.Rptr. 543.).
Spousal Support and Cohabitation
Family Code section 4323(a)(1) provides that “there is a rebuttable presumption, affecting the burden of proof, of decreased need for spousal support if the supported party is cohabiting with a person of the opposite sex…”. If your former spouse is in a romantic relationship and cohabitating with that person, that may be enough to seek a decrease in your alimony payments.