This article will attempt to explain, briefly, the components to a motion to terminate or modify a California spousal support (also known as ‘alimony’) order pursuant to a Divorce Judgment.
If you have an order to pay spousal support from a state other than California, stop. It is highly unlikely that California has jurisdiction to terminate or modify your spousal support order from a different state. If your current order originates in California, keep reading.
Is Your SUPPORT Order Modifiable?
California’s Family Code provides that spousal support orders may be modified for the period support is to be paid, unless the parties have an agreement otherwise. Carefully review the language of your current order. Does it explicitly state that it is non-modifiable? If it does, you cannot modify. Is the amount to be paid for a fixed duration with the court losing jurisdiction after said date? If so, chances are you will not be able to modify.
Once you determine the language in your order does not preclude a modification, you will then need to demonstrate a “change of circumstances”.
CHANGE OF CIRCUMSTANCES
A California court will not modify your alimony obligation if you cannot demonstrate a “change of circumstances”. To be sure, the change must be a material one. In other words, substantial.
What are some examples of a substantial change of circumstances?
- Significant reduction in the payor’s income.
- Significant increase in the payee’s income.
- Payee’s cohabitation with a nonmarital partner.
- A change in lifestyle that effects the asset base or asset to debt ratio of either party.
Notice that a payee’s remarriage is not listed here. Why? Because the payee’s remarriage automatically terminates alimony in California.
Remember, your case is not over just by showing a change of circumstances. It still lies within the court’s discretion whether to terminate or modify the order based upon the change.
In determining whether to do so, the court is required to review the factors contained in Family Code Section 4320. Review the factors and see how they apply to your case.
PASSAGE OF TIME
In most cases involving marriages of long-term (10 years or more), the mere passage of time is usually not on its own considered a change of circumstance. However, the statutory policy in California is that a supported spouse must make efforts to become self-supporting within a reasonable period of time. Proving this case can be tricky, however. Does your spouse have the education or skills to become self-supporting? What efforts has the supported spouse already made to become self-supporting?
If you believe your former spouse has not made good-faith efforts to become self-supporting within a reasonable period of time, you should consider having an attorney evaluate your case.
There are few scenarios that provide for automatic termination or modification of an order for alimony. First, look to your order. See if it contains any non-modifiable language, or whether it expressly sets support for a fixed duration. If your order is modifiable and your former spouse has not remarried, the burden is on you to convince the court to reduce or terminate support based on a change of circumstances. If your income went below the marital standard and/or your former spouse’s income has gone above, your case is an easier one to prove. However if neither applies, you will be expected to provide sufficient evidence to persuade the court to modify your support order.
The attorneys at The Zarin Law Firm are highly experienced in spousal support modification cases. We have represented clients on both sides of the aisle, so we know what to look for.
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