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When Can You Terminate a Spousal Support Order?




Spousal support can be a necessary tool to help someone avoid experience abrupt financial hardships after getting divorced. For the person receiving spousal support, they might not have the ability to cover the costs of living close to the same standards to which they became accustomed during their marriage. For the person paying spousal support, it can serve as a painful reminder of a relationship they are trying hard to forget.

In many cases, spousal support obligations do not last indefinitely. Furthermore, a spousal support obligation may end earlier than the parties anticipated. This blog discusses the circumstances in which a spousal support obligation may be terminated under California law.

The Default Rule: Termination Upon Death or Marriage

California Family Code § 4337 provides that “[e]xcept as otherwise agreed by the parties in writing, the obligation of a party under an order for the support of the other party terminates upon the death of either party or the remarriage of the other party.”

In the context of Family Code § 4337, “remarriage” refers to a legally valid marriage entered into by the spouse receiving spousal support. But what happens if the remarried spouse who used to receive spousal support ultimately gets an annulment for their remarriage?

An annulment is a remedy for a legally void or voidable marriage that treats such marriage as if it never existed in the first place. So, if an annulment suggests that a person’s remarriage was never valid from the outset, does this mean that a prior spousal support obligation should not have been terminated?

Courts have held that an annulment generally does not cause a previous spousal support obligation to be reinstated.

However, when determining whether to reinstate a terminated spousal support obligation upon an annulled remarriage, courts will consider the following:

  • If the supported spouse involuntarily entered into the annulled remarriage
  • Excessive delay in pursuing an annulment
  • If the spouse required to pay support relied on the annulled remarriage to their detriment

However, if the supported spouse sought remarriage pending finalization of their divorce, it does not qualify as a “remarriage” that would terminate the other spouse’s support obligation.

Changed Circumstances Justifying Termination

In general, a party can modify the terms of a family law court order—such as orders for child custody and spousal support—if the party seeking modification can demonstrate that a material change in circumstances warrants changing the order’s terms.

A party who wants to terminate a spousal support obligation can request the court to modify the payment term of the support order to $0. Historically, cases have held that a support modification reducing payments to $0 also terminates a court’s jurisdiction to modify spousal support further. As a result, the court must use express language to retain jurisdiction to subsequently increase spousal support upon a future change of circumstances.

For example, if the supporting spouse becomes temporarily disabled in a car accident, causing them to stop working and unable to pay support, a court can reduce their obligation to $0. However, if the disabled spouse is expected to recover from their injuries enough so they can earn a living, a court would reserve jurisdiction for ordering them to resume paying spousal support.

For Effective Legal Counsel, Get in Touch with Moshtael Family Law

Are you concerned about protecting your income and assets after divorce? Do you worry about how you will provide for yourself without your spouse’s financial income? If so, you should get in touch with one of our experienced family law attorneys at Moshtael Family Law. Our legal team has dedicated their practice to helping families in a variety of matters arising under California family law, including spousal support issues.

To speak with a member of our legal team about your case, call Moshtael Family Law at (714) 909-2561 or contact us online today.

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