Spousal Support

How do I modify Spousal Support, after my divorce has been finalized?

In order to modify your existing spousal support order, you must show a “material change in circumstances.” The best way to establish what the marital standard of living was at the time of your dissolution is to attach a copy of your Judgment as an exhibit to your pleadings. Next, use the Spousal Support Attachment, form FL-157, to describe the current situation and attach it to your Request for Orders, form FL-300. In your declaration, summarize the facts as they were at the time of dissolution and how are they now, highlighting the significant changes. You will also need to complete a current Income and Expense Declaration, form FL-150. It is also good to show that you have tried to meet and confer with your former spouse, and upon what facts you agree and disagree. Do not include settlement negotiations as those are confidential. Visual charts of “then” and “now” can be helpful to provide a side-by-side comparison of the differences of the Family Code Section 4320 factors, look to past and current Income and Expense Declarations or past and current tax returns.

How can I best protect myself against being in contempt of court if I cannot afford my current spousal support order?

Immediately file a Request for Orders to Modify Spousal Support, form FL-300. This starts the clock of when a retroactive modification can begin. Continue to pay some support, even if you cannot afford the full amount of the prior order. A judge will look at the reasonableness of your conduct, which may prove fair at your reduced earnings, and help to avoid contempt. Then, follow the instructions above. If you are served with Contempt of Court papers, you should immediately contact a lawyer as there could be criminal or civil penalties.

Is an inheritance considered a “material change of circumstance”?

Only if an inheritance produces “income” would it be worthy of consideration for a spousal support modification.

What if the supported party is still not working, many years after the divorce, can I stop paying support?

The judge will look to see if the supported party was given a Gavron warning at the time of the judgment, and to see what efforts the supported party has made to become self-supporting, to determine if spousal support should be reduced or terminated. A person who was issued a Gavron warning must preserve documentation regarding job search efforts and attach them to his or her responsive papers.

What is a reasonable retirement age?

It depends on the job for your industry. The court will look to any pension benefits as income to see if there is any “material change in circumstances” warranting a modification of spousal support.

What if one party claims disability as the reason for not being able to work?

A mere declaration regarding disability is not enough to show that a person is unable to work. Medical reports must be attached and show that the person’s disability renders the person unable to work.

What if I want to return to school to get a better job to become self-supporting?

This is up to the discretion of the judge if it is reasonable to return to school. Usually, courts will consider returning to school for college completion, but usually not for graduate work.

Is the termination of child support due to a child reaching the age of majority enough to modify spousal support?

Do not rush to relitigate this issue right away, give it a couple of months to see if you can adjust and then be prepared to show a “material change of circumstances” to apply for more spousal support. Such a request MUST be filed no later than six months after the child reaches the age of majority, pursuant to Family Code section 4326.

What if the supported party is now cohabitating with someone new?

On its face, cohabitation alone is not a reason to justify a downward spousal support modification. You must provide evidence that the new partner is paying for the expenses of the supported party and that the supported party now has a diminished need for support. Also, the person cohabitating with the supported party should not be a “roommate” but rather an intimate partner.

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