Spousal support orders are modifiable most of the time: Spousal support orders are generally modifiable. However, it is possible to have a non-modifiable spousal support order. Spousal support orders can be made non-modifiable as to amount. They can be made non-modifiable as to duration. They can be made non-modifiable as to both amount and duration. You have to read the existing spousal support order. Look for language that says something to the effect that the order is non-modifiable and/or language that states that the court will not have any jurisdiction to modify the amount or duration of spousal support. If you don’t see that kind of language, then the order is likely modifiable. There are all kinds of reasons why you may want to modify a spousal support order. The following are just a few examples:
Example #1: Your divorce judgment states husband will pay wife $1,000 per month in spousal support. At the time of the divorce, wife is unemployed or only working part-time. A year after the divorce, wife obtains a full-time job. The amount of spousal support should be reduced because wife’s need for support has been reduced due to the income from the new job.
Example #2: Your divorce judgment states husband will pay wife $1,000 per month in spousal support. A year after the divorce, wife gets a boyfriend and they start cohabiting. Family Code section 4323 states that there is a rebuttable presumption of a decreased need for spousal support if the supported party is cohabiting with a non-marital partner. As set forth in Family Code 4320, if the supported party is cohabiting with a non-marital partner, and the court determines that circumstances have changed, the court may modify or even terminate spousal support. If the wife had married her boyfriend instead of just cohabiting, the spousal support would have terminated automatically by law. What if the person paying spousal support starts to cohabit? In our example, what if the former husband was paying $1,000 per month in spousal support and he later moved in with his girlfriend or he remarried and the girlfriend or new wife earns a good income, would the amount of spousal support go up? The spousal support amount probably would not go up. Family Code section 4323 also states that the income of the supporting spouse’s subsequent spouse or non-marital partner shall not be considered when determining or modifying spousal support.
Example #3: Your divorce judgment states husband will pay wife $1,000 per month in spousal support. At the time of the divorce, wife is unemployed. The divorce judgment includes a “Gavron warning”. Family Code section 4320 sets forth the factors the court takes into consideration when making or modifying a spousal support order. Subsection “l” of Family Code section 4320 states a goal is that the supported party be self-supporting within a reasonable period of time. A Gavron warning is language that may or may not be included in the divorce judgment. A Gavron warning advises the recipient of support that he or she should make reasonable efforts to assist in providing for his or her support needs and if they fail to make reasonable efforts, this failure may be one of the factors the court takes into consideration when modifying or terminating spousal support. If the divorce judgment contained a Gavron warning and some years after the divorce, wife has failed to make reasonable efforts to become self-supporting, then husband may want to file a motion to reduce or terminate spousal support, including a request that the court impute income to wife equal to the amount she would have been earning had she made reasonable efforts. If you purchased our “Marital Settlement Agreement” template for, you would have seen in our spousal support optional paragraphs a Gavron Warning that you could have included in your divorce judgment.