Factors Affecting Post-Divorce Spousal Support Modifications

Legal issues related to divorce have the unique property of arising even after the court has issued a final judgment. That is because a final judgment for the dissolution of marriage primarily gives legal effect to a marriage’s end between the parties. However, matters such as child custody and spousal support can continue beyond the court’s declaration that the couple’s marriage has terminated. That is because the court’s orders regarding things like spousal support were made based on circumstances that existed at the time the parties’ initial divorce proceedings were administered. However, the circumstances upon which certain court orders were made tend to change over time. Accordingly, courts reserve jurisdiction to modify its orders when things change. This article examines the essential factors that specifically affect spousal support modifications.

Spousal Support Determinations

When a court makes rulings awarding spousal support, it must evaluate the respective financial conditions of each spouse. An award for spousal support is appropriate where one spouse has a demonstrated need for financial assistance to maintain the standard of living established during the marriage, and the other spouse has the financial resources to provide such assistance. However, when those conditions are no longer applicable, spousal support may no longer be appropriate.

Circumstances Justifying Termination of Spousal Support

In general, the obligation to pay spousal support will terminate upon the death of either spouse. Additionally, if the spouse who was awarded spousal support remarries, the payor spouse's obligation to pay support will end.

Circumstances Justifying Modification of Spousal Support

California courts have held that the post-divorce modification of spousal support is warranted upon a showing that a material change in circumstances justifies changing spousal support. Depending on the initial circumstances, a court has continuing jurisdiction to alter the amount or duration of a spousal support order.

Spousal support modifications must be based on changed circumstances that are substantially different from the conditions existing at the time the court issued the original order. Sometimes, a court will make a spousal support order under the assumption that a particular event or condition will occur.

For example, a spousal support order might be crafted based on the expectation that a spouse will find employment and become financially independent after eighteen months – at which point the spousal support order provides that the amount of spousal support will automatically reduce. This is also known as a “step-down” provision. However, if the party receiving spousal support fails to become self-supporting after eighteen months, the automatic reduction would be unfair.

Courts have recognized that if a spouse, despite their good-faith efforts, does not attain financial self-sufficiency as expected, they may modify a step-down spousal support order and continue to receive spousal support at the initial rate.

Moshtael Family Law – Advocating for Orange County Residents

Are you involved in a challenging divorce? If so, you should seek the legal advice of an experienced Orange County attorney from Moshtael Family Law. Our legal team is committed to delivering compassionate legal advice and advocacy for individuals and families in Orange County. We will support your interests throughout your divorce proceedings, guiding you through each step of the process so you can make informed decisions about your case.

Get started on your case by calling our office at (714) 909-2561 to schedule a free, confidential consultation about your legal rights and options today.