Spousal Support Modification / by Cassandra Hearn

Modification of spousal support after a judgment of divorce has been entered is a very common issue, whether a marriage lasted five years or fifty. After the divorce, former spouses still connected through a spousal support order may find that the order no longer suits their situation. In such an instance, it may be necessary to request that the spousal support order be modified.


If either party requests a modification of spousal support, he or she must demonstrate that there has been a material change in circumstances since that last order. Whether a change in the support order is appropriate will be up to the judge, and the judges review the facts carefully as every single case is different. Each fact shown should correlate with both the family code, and relevant case law.


If the request is for an increase in spousal support, the requesting party must demonstrate either that either the initial spousal support order was insufficient, or the reasonable cost of meeting his or her needs has increased. “Reasonable cost” is typically measured by what the parties’ standard of living was during the marriage, not the standard of living the supporting party had after the divorce. The requesting party must then go on to demonstrate that the supporting party has the ability to pay the increased amount.


The inquiry is a bit different if the paying party is requesting a reduction in support. The court will look at the factors under Family Code § 4320. The court will also look at the “passage of time.”  The goal is that a spouse receiving support should become self-supporting with a “reasonable period of time,” which is generally one-half the length of the marriage if the marriage was of short duration (or less than ten years), as described in Family Code §4320(l).


Courts routinely order the supported spouse to make efforts to obtain employment, an education, or otherwise support him or herself; this is called a “Gavron Warning.” Once a “Gavron Warning” has been made and after sufficient time has passed, the paying spouse may request termination of a support order.


Other factors may also come into play when requesting a reduction or elimination of a spousal support obligation. If the parties have no minor children, and the supported spouse acquires separate property that is sufficient to meet his or her needs, then the court must terminate support, as per Family Code §4322. Re-marriage of the supported spouse will result in immediate termination of support; whereas cohabitation with a romantic partner by the supported spouse may just be a factor for the court to consider.


If you have questions about your spousal support order, call us today at 619-800-0384 for a consultation. We can review your order and discuss whether a modification is necessary or appropriate in your case.