When Can I Modify My California Spousal Support Order?

Posted by: Gerald A. Maggio, Esq.

Top Orange County divorce mediators; California divorce mediatorsBy Gerald Maggio, Esq.

There are 2 types of spousal support orders in California.  First, there are temporary spousal support orders made while a divorce or legal separation case is pending, which are generally made in the initial stage of such cases until a final resolution of the case is accomplished.  Second, spousal support orders made at trial of trial or by a stipulated Judgment reached between the parties are generally termed “long-term” spousal support orders intended to kick in once the divorce or legal separation is finalized.

In California cases, long-term spousal support orders can be amended or terminated under certain circumstances. Supporting partners have a number of different options available to them, if they wish to pursue a modification or termination of the support they provide.

In most cases, long-term spousal support can be terminated or modified at any time during the support period.  The only instance when this is not true is when there is a written agreement by the parties expressly stating that spousal support is non-modifiable. In the absence of such an agreement, the court generally retains continuing spousal support jurisdiction and can decide to terminate or reduce spousal support in later court proceedings.  This is especially true for marriages that were more than 10 years in duration.

If the court assumes continuing spousal support jurisdiction, then the court may grant a request to modify spousal support if the supporting party can demonstrate a material change of circumstance since the most recent court order outlining the spousal support. When reviewing a modification or termination request, the court will consider the following factors:

  • Reducing Support if Spouse is Self Supporting– The California Family Code emphasizes that even in long-term marriages, defined as those which last 10 years or more, the supported spouse has a duty to become self-supporting within a reasonable amount of time, which is considered to be one-half the length of the marriage.  Generally, if the duration of the marriage is less than ten years, a supported spouse is expected to become self-supporting in half the length of the marriage. Modification or termination of the support can be ended before this time. If the spouse has not made any reasonable efforts to become self-supporting, you may ask      the court to terminate the spousal support.  If, on the other hand, your former spouse has actually increased his or her earnings, you will be able to present evidence of this in court and argue that he or she now has a reduced need for support.
  • Reducing Spousal Support Based on Obligations– In some cases, the supported party’s separate estate, including any and all assets allocated to him or her in the community property division, and its reasonable income potential, may be enough for you to seek a reduction or termination of previously awarded spousal support.
  • Other Factors that affect Modification of Spousal Support include:
  •    Remarriage– A spousal support order automatically terminates when the supported party gets remarried.
  •    Cohabitation– Cohabitation may also be a basis for seeking a modification or termination of a spousal support order. If your former spouse is cohabitating with a    member of the opposite sex in a romantic relationship, you can request that the court order a termination of support or a downward modification of support.
  •    Retirement– The retirement of the supporting party may be sufficient basis to receive a termination of support; however, it will be important to prove that the supporting spouse has a right to retire and is not choosing early retirement.  In California, the recognized retirement age is 65, meaning that your ex-spouse cannot force you to work beyond that age, and if your retirement income is less than your pre-retirement income, you are likely entitled to a modification of the spousal support order at a minimum.

Whether you can terminate or reduce your existing spousal support obligation depends upon the unique facts and circumstances of your case. If you are considering modifying or terminating your spousal support order, you should contact a family law attorney who will review your case and advise you on how best to proceed.

For more information or to schedule a consultation, please contact California Divorce Mediators at (949) 553-0911 or at www.cadivorcemediators.com.

To learn more about the divorce process in California and how mediation can help, please visit our page, “What is Divorce Mediation.”