One of the most common questions we get asked is whether spousal support must be paid forever. Many people had been married for decades and after divorce were made to pay significant monthly alimony or spousal support payments. We often hear stories of how previous legal counsel told them they would have to pay for years and perhaps even decades with no hope for termination or even reduction.
Well, we’re here to tell you this is not the case. California state law dictates that spousal support is not permanent! In fact, depending on circumstance it might only last a few years. In other cases, it can last for decades; but often the amount paid can be reduced significantly.
There are two important points here:
1) The paying spouse does not have to pay spousal support indefinitely.
2) The supported spouse is expected to become self-supporting.
The eventual termination of spousal support and the directive for the supported spouse to become self-supporting is known as the Gavron Warning. In most cases, at the time the supported spouse receives their permanent spousal support order, they are also issued the Gavron warning of not to rely on this support. It will end. This warning is given in the hope of compelling the spouse receiving support to look for employment or create their own income streams within a reasonable time.
The Gavron warning was set over twenty years ago In re Marriage of Gavron, 203 Cal. App. 3d 705, 711-712 (Cal. App. 2d Dist. 1988). In this case, the supported ex-wife was unemployed and did not have valuable job skills. However, after six years the paying spouse argued that she had time while he was supporting her to develop the skills necessary to support herself. In essence, the trial court granted the requested modification, holding the wife’s failure to become employed as a change in circumstance that shifted the burden to her to demonstrate her continued need for support. The statute now reads:
“When making an order for spousal support, the court may advise the recipient of support that he or she should make reasonable efforts to assist in providing for his or her support needs, taking into account the particular circumstances considered by the court pursuant to [Family Code] section 4320, unless, in the case of a marriage of long duration as provided for in [Family Code] section 4336, the court decides this warning is inadvisable.”
Here’s the rule: For marriages of less than 10 years the supported spouse must become self-supporting within half the time of the marriage duration. In other words, if you were married eight years, spousal support would only last for four years. Moreover, Family Code section 4320 (and several appellate cases) emphasize that even in marriages of greater than 10 years the supported spouse has a duty to become self-supporting as soon as reasonably possible. Cohabitation may also be the basis for seeking a decreased spousal support award.