What Circumstances Justify Modifying Spousal Support

Spousal Support in General

Under California law, a spouse who lacks the financial resources to cover their living expenses at the standard of living they grew accustomed to when they were married may receive spousal support payments from their former spouse.

To receive spousal support, a party not only has to prove that they do not have adequate financial resources to live at the marital standard of living, but also that the other party has sufficient resources to provide necessary financial support.

California Family Code § 4320 lists specific factors that a court must consider when determining whether a party qualifies for spousal support. Some of those factors include:

  • The earning capacity of each party
  • The length of the marriage
  • The parenting and financial responsibilities of the supported party
  • “The goal that the supported party shall be self-supporting with a reasonable period of time.”

After evaluating the statutory factors for spousal support, a court will issue an order for spousal support. However, the terms of a spousal support order may be modified if there was a material change of circumstances after the court made the original order.

Modifying Duration of Support

When determining whether a material change of circumstances justifies modification of a spousal support order, the court must reevaluate the factors of California Family Code § 4320.

In general, spousal support orders are crafted to allow a financially less resourceful spouse to achieve financial independence by providing them with financial assistance for a reasonable period. California courts typically consider half the length of the parties’ marriage to be a reasonable time for a supported spouse to become self-supporting.

In cases where the marriage lasted over ten years, California courts may decide to fashion a spousal support award for an indefinite time.

However, the duration of a spousal support obligation is modifiable if the expectations the court relied on when they issued the order failed to materialize.

For example, imagine that the court-ordered three years of spousal support, expecting the supported spouse to find gainful employment by the time the order expires. The supported spouse can modify the order to extend the obligation further if they failed to find gainful employment despite their good-faith effort to secure a job.

Similarly, a court may reduce or terminate a spousal support order if the supported spouse regained their ability to earn income or otherwise experienced a sudden increase in wealth.

Modifying the Amount of Support

The exact amount of a spousal support order depends on the financial circumstances of the parties. For example, courts have considered retirement to be a change of circumstances that warrants the reduction of a spousal support order by an amount commensurate with the resulting drop in the supporting spouse’s income.

In contrast, a sudden ascension to significant wealth—such as winning the jackpot or inheriting property—does not automatically necessitate modification of the support order.

Contact Family Law San Diego Today

At Family Law San Diego, you can benefit from the years of family law experience our attorneys bring to the table. Whether you need legal representation in a matter involving divorce or a request to modify a spousal support order, our legal team is prepared to tenaciously advocate for your interests.

To schedule an initial consultation, please contact Family Law San Diego online or call us at (619) 577-4900 today.