by Zonder Family Law Group
If you had a divorce judgment in California that provided for ongoing spousal support, but only for a set number of months or years, it can be unsettling when the time comes that your ex-spouse is no longer required to pay a monthly alimony payment under the judgment. It could be the case that, for whatever reason, you no longer want and/or need a monthly spousal support payment, but, if you are reading this, you are probably wondering whether it is possible to get additional support.
In some cases, it is indeed possible for you to get additional alimony payments beyond what the judgment says but doing so can be a challenging and complex legal task.
What Does Your Divorce Judgment Say About Spousal Support?
The answer to whether it makes sense to try to seek additional spousal support beyond what you are afforded in the judgment partially lies in the language of the judgment itself. This may well require consulting with a family law attorney, but, again, that is the starting point.
Many divorce judgments will include language regarding the ongoing jurisdiction (or lack thereof) of the court to continue to award spousal support beyond what is laid out in the judgment. Often in the negotiation of spousal support during a divorce, parties and their attorneys will include language that specifically terminates the jurisdiction of the court to award any further spousal support. This is usually true in marriages of less than ten years, where support is typically awarded for half the length of the marriage, measured from the wedding to date of separation.
It can also be the case, however, that parties in a long-term marriage over ten years will include language in the judgment that terminates the court’s jurisdiction to award further support. But if such language is not included, or the judgment specifically states that the court will retain jurisdiction to award spousal support, then you may indeed have the ability to petition the court for further support. Again, it may well be worth consulting with an experienced family law attorney to make this assessment.
Seeking Additional Spousal Support Beyond the Terms of the Judgment
Critically, it is important to understand very clearly that just because the court retains jurisdiction to award further support it does not mean that the court will. Assuming you do have the ability to seek further spousal support beyond the terms of the judgment, you will ideally want to reach an agreement to do so with your former spouse rather than go to court to have a judge order it, as doing so can be expensive and stressful for both parties.
Ultimately, a court will be looking at the California Family Code section 4320 factors, along with abiding by relevant California case law, in determining whether to grant additional support. The 4320 factors, which you might recall from your divorce, involve looking at, among other things, the marital standard of living, the income and financial pictures of both parties, and the ability of the supported party to become self-supporting. Because a judge has wide discretion and is required to look at many factors when deciding on continued support, it can be very difficult to predict with accuracy how a judge may rule.
Additionally, with a modification of support proceeding, a court will want to see that there has been some change in circumstance since the original order was made justifying the modification. Such a change of circumstance could be greater financial need on the part of the supported party or greater income/assets on the part of the supporting party. The court however will want to see that the supported party has made efforts to become “self-supporting” during the period in which support has been paid such as making efforts to seek out greater job skills and opportunities, and a failure to do so will not bolster the supported party’s arguments. Similarly, changed circumstances on the part of the supported party in the form of financial need as a result of making bad financial choices (e.g., going into debt beyond one’s means) will likely not be persuasive to the court.
Returning to the first portion of this section, ideally both parties in a support modification situation should work together to reach a fair outcome rather than incur the expenses of a litigation proceeding. It is quite inexpensive and straightforward to request current financial information from a party paying support. The parties can negotiate from there and, if need be, go to court to resolve the issue. All in all, modification of spousal support is a rather complex area with much room for judicial discretion and speaking with an experienced family law attorney is advised whether you are seeking or paying support.
Guidance on Your Spousal Support Questions from a Westlake Village Family Law Attorney
If you would like to learn more about how our office can provide guidance on any California family law issues you are facing in Ventura County or Los Angeles County, contact the Zonder Family Law Group office today at (805) 777-7740 or (818) 877-0001.