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Post-Judgment Modification of Spousal Support Part 2 of 2:Decrease and/or Termination of Spousal Support

In part 1 of this article, we explored the considerations for an increase in long-term spousal support. We concluded that a party receiving spousal support may seek an upward modification, but they should plead and be prepared to prove changes of circumstances beyond the paying parties’ increased income and the expected termination of child support. If such a change can be shown, the court will analyze and award the proper amount of support based on the circumstances, often times resulting in a substantial increase.

On the other hand, a payor of support may at some point seek to reduce or end the spousal support. This is especially true if the support order does not specify an end date, because that order will continue until either party dies or the supported party remarries.

For any modification (either upward or downward) of support, a change of circumstances is necessary. And while a decrease in the supporting party’s income and an increase of the supported party’s income will certainly support this requirement, there are other arguments available to a payor seeking a decrease or termination of spousal support.

Spousal support terminates upon the remarriage of the supported spouse. Family Code section 4337. What this means in practice is that if a person is receiving spousal support, it will cost them just that amount to get remarried. The financial reality more often than not results in a delay of official nuptials. But cohabitation can result in decrease or termination of spousal support. There is a presumption of a reduced need for spousal support if the supported party is living with a member of the opposite sex in a romantic relationship. See Family Code section 4332.

A change of circumstances can also be shown by evidence that the supported party has failed to make efforts to become self-sufficient. See Marriage of Gavron, 203 Cal App. 3d 705, 710. In the marriage of Shaughnessy (2006) 139 Cal.App.4th 1225, the appellate court affirmed the lower court’s decision to reduce the spousal support paid to wife due to her failure to make efforts to become self-supportive following a 15-year marriage.

The family code provides a presumption that someone will have become self-sufficient in half the length of the marriage (except in a case of a marriage of long duration). That rule of thumb does not circumvent the policy of the law to that parties receiving support make efforts to become self-supporting. So a motion based on this change of circumstances does not have to be delayed for half the length of the marriage. This is particularly true in a marriage of long duration, because there is no presumption of what is a reasonable time. Many courts have decreased spousal support obligations from long-term marriages based on evidence that the supported party has failed to make appropriate efforts to become self-sufficient, even if such failure was not in bad faith.

It will more difficult to demonstrate a change of circumstances and therefore modify a spousal support obligation which, by its terms expires in a short amount of time. But if no end-date is set, such as in a marriage of long-duration, it is crucial for the paying party to seek a downward modification and eventual termination of support (assuming they do not want to pay the order “forever”). Parties seeking a downward modification sometimes do not succeed in their first effort back to court. But more often than not, such an effort will result in a very strong admonition to the supported party to get on their feet, setting up a more successful effort to reduce or terminate support the next time around.

Conclusion: Reduction and termination of spousal support is possibly, and such a request can be supported by evidence of decreased income by the payor, or of increased income, remarriage or cohabitation by the supported spouse. Also, a

change of circumstances can be shown by arguing that there is a failed expectation

that Petitioner would become self-supportive in a reasonable amount of time.

~Aaron M. Hudson, Esq.

Law Offices of Vincent W. Davis & Associates

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