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Spousal Support Modification

In California, spousal support may be temporary, during the pendency of a divorce, or permanent. Referring to spousal support, or alimony, as permanent is somewhat misleading, as even so-called "permanent" alimony awards may be modified. A better way to think of such awards is as "long-term," or "indefinite" spousal support.

A general guideline in California is that, for marriages considered "short term," under ten years in duration, permanent spousal support continues for no more than half the length of the marriage; for long-term marriages, judges tend to rely less on a guideline and look more at how long it will take for the spouse receiving alimony to be able to be self-supporting. In the meantime, spousal support is intended to maintain that spouse at a standard of living close to what the couple enjoyed during the marriage. 

Regardless of the duration of a California spousal support award, courts typically have the authority (also known as jurisdiction) to modify the amount or duration of spousal support payments that have not yet come due. Depending on the situation, the court may terminate future payments altogether.

Exception to Modifiability of California Spousal Support

There is one important caveat to this: if you and your ex-spouse agreed in your settlement agreement that spousal support would be non-modifiable. If the term "non-modifiable" is in your agreement, then the court lacks jurisdiction to change the ordered spousal support amount or the duration of payments. Assuming no such wording is in your court order or judgment, you and your ex-spouse can agree to modify or even terminate spousal support whenever you wish, but a modification of spousal support in California typically takes place when there has been a change in circumstances for either of the parties.

One common change in circumstances leading to a modification of spousal support is when the spouse receiving support begins living with a person of the opposite sex. California law presumes in this case (though the presumption can be rebutted) that there is a decreased need for spousal support, and spousal support terminates when the party receiving it remarries. 

Other common changes of circumstances include an increase in income of the party receiving support, or a job loss or decreased income on the part of the person paying the support. An increase in the income of the person paying support after the divorce, however, does not necessarily warrant an increase in spousal support. Modifications of spousal support amounts are dependent on the specific facts of each particular case. Many spousal support payments are paid through wage assignment directly from the payor's paycheck, therefore it is important to submit a new wage garnishment to the employer if the court modifies the amount of spousal support to be paid.

At Shaffer & Associates, we understand that income and life circumstances change after divorce—sometimes for the better, but sometimes for the worse. A spousal support award that seemed reasonable at the time of divorce may become impractical or impossible to continue. We have handled hundreds of California divorces, many of which have involved spousal support awards or modifications. We can help you understand the law of California spousal support modification and how it applies to the facts of your case, so you can decide whether pursuing a modification is worthwhile.

Spousal Support in San Diego and the Surrounding Communities

Our attorneys assist with establishing, modifying, and enforcing spousal support orders in San Diego County and the surrounding communities, including Orange County, Riverside County and Los Angeles County. Contact Shaffer & Associates online or call (619) 595-3167 for a free case evaluation.

San Diego Bar AssociationSection of Family LawCalifornia State Bar Family Law American Bar Association Avvo Clients' Choice 2014