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Santa Barbara Spousal Support Attorney

Santa Barbara Spousal Support Attorney

Spousal support may be awarded any time a couple chooses to legally divorce or separate. In such a case, one spouse or partner may be ordered by the court to provide the other with a certain amount of money each month to help maintain the marital “standard of living." This is referred to as “spousal support” for married couples and “partner support” for couples in a domestic partnership.

In California, spousal support may also be ordered to be paid to a spouse on a temporary basis (i.e.; while the divorce is pending), for a specific length of time after the marriage has been dissolved and, in some cases, an order for support may be permanent. Once determined, it becomes part of the final divorce or separation judgment. The primary purpose of long-term or permanent spousal support is to help the supported spouse become self-sufficient again. It is granted to help the supported spouse exist at or near the standard of living established during the marriage after the divorce has been finalized.

Spousal Support must be ordered by the court, although parties may independently contractually agree on an amount and duration of support payments and request that the court enter the agreement as an order. When litigated, spousal support may be ordered by the court only after consideration of all statutorily enumerated factors set forth in Cal. Family Code §4320, including:

  • The length of the marriage;
  • The standard of living established during the marriage;
  • The needs of each party;
  • Financial resources and liabilities of each party, including separate property;
  • Each party's source(s) of income;
  • The impact of the custodial parent's employment on the needs of the minor children;
  • The age and health of each spouse;
  • Each spouse's ability to be self-supporting;
  • Tax consequences to each party;
  • The contribution of each party to domestic duties;
  • The contribution of each party to the education and training of the other party; and
  • Domestic violence;

While the court may use a computer program or guideline to calculate a temporary spousal support amount before the trial, the court is not allowed to use the Dissomaster in calculating permanent support at the time of final judgment. In re Marriage of Olson (1993) 14 Cal.App.4th 1, a permanent spousal support order based on the Dissomaster was reversed because of the failure to consider all 4320 factors.

Once ordered, the amount of spousal support payable and the duration of payments may only be modified upon a showing of a change in circumstances. California law establishes the rebuttable presumption that absent an agreement to the contrary, if the spouse receiving support cohabitates with a new romantic partner, that spouse's need for support has decreased. This is one example of a change in circumstances. The law also provides that unless otherwise agreed upon, an order for spousal support terminates upon the death of either party or remarriage of the party receiving support. However, if the parties specifically agree that an order for spousal support is not subject to modification or termination, the amount payable may never be modified regardless of changed circumstances.

How does the length of marriage effect the duration of support payments?

The length of time spousal support is ordered depends greatly on the length of the marriage. For extremely short marriages, spousal support may never even come into play. It is possible that short-term or temporary support could meet the payment obligations. For long-term marriages, spousal support is more complicated to determine. It will be up to the judge to consider all of the facts, needs, and the ability of the paying spouse to pay before an amount can be determined, but whatever decision is made, it must be made within the context of §4320 factors.

Under California law, any marriage that is longer than ten years is automatically considered to be "of long duration," and sometimes, shorter marriages can be considered lengthy as well.  For marriages that last less than ten years, support usually lasts no longer than half the length of the marriage. These days, and in light of a change of public policy, a ten-year marriage would likely result in no more than five years of spousal support in Santa Barbara, however, the court would retain jurisdiction indefinitely after the divorce was completed, unless the spouses agree otherwise. Retaining jurisdiction means that the court has the ability to continue making decisions about matters between the spouses, in particular spousal support, and can reevaluate its original orders and modify them if the facts justify a change.

The Gavron Warning, Richmond Order and In re Marriage of Schmir; the changing face of public policy regarding longterm marriages

A marriage of “long duration” classification is important in a California divorce proceedings as it commonly entitles one spouse to receive permanent spousal support, as opposed to support that will terminate on a specific date. In recognition of the potential for one ex-spouse to abuse this privilege, the courts have adopted several rules intended to prevent the supported spouse from resting on his or her laurels in reliance on a lifetime of support from their ex-spouse. The most frequently invoked rules are called the “Richmond Order” and “Gavron Warning.”

Santa Barbara Spousal Support Attorney

In re Marriage of Richmond (1980) 105 Cal.App.3d 352, following the dissolution of a marriage lasting 16 years, the trial court ordered the husband to pay spousal support until a date certain at which time it would terminate forever, unless the supported spouse filed an order to show cause prior to said date to extend spousal support. In upholding that type of order, the appellate court in that case found that the supported spouse should bear the burden of coming forth with evidence since that party had better access to the relevant evidence. Thus this procedure, of shifting the burden of showing need prior to a termination date to the supported spouse, became known as a “Richmond Order”.

In re Marriage of Gavron (1988) 203 Cal.App.3d 705, the case involved a modification of a support order after a 25-year marriage. Although the trial court granted the requested modification, the appellate court reversed explaining that the supported spouse needed to be affirmatively advised of the need to take steps to become self-supporting or possibly face termination. Thus, this admonishment became known as a “Gavron warning” notifying recipients of active spousal support, that they are expected to become self-supporting. This Gavron warning was codified by Family Code Section 4330, which was mandatory in all support obligations until 1999, when it became a discretionary warning.

The concept of “lifetime spousal support” was further threatened and dismantled in the case of In re Marriage of Schmir (2005) 134 CA4 432. As proven by the citation below:

As recognized by our Supreme Court the public policy of this state has progressed from one which "entitled some women to lifelong alimony as a condition of the marital contract of support to one that entitles either spouse to post-dissolution support for only so long as is necessary to become self-supporting." In re Marriage of Schmir (2005) 134 CA4 432.

While the court cannot terminate spousal support by a certain date, they can set a date for termination unless the supported spouse applies to extend the support on or before that date. In marriages that are just over 10 years, or the spouse has excellent career prospects, this is often a fruitful strategy to pursue.

Negotiating a settlement before a costly court battle

It's always a good idea to try to negotiate an out-of-court settlement to save legal fees, but often there are significant advantages to actually litigating spousal support. Out-of-court settlements may not always establish an exact dollar amount for the "marital standard of living," making modification or termination of support much harder in the future. Such settlements often don't take into account your spouse's earning capacity as established by the testimony of a licensed vocational counselor, and rarely include a Gavron Warning.

If you look at this issue as a long-term obligation that can span several decades, you may have a significant advantage in litigating spousal support to ensure that you have set the case up correctly for eventual termination of spousal support. All too often the paying spouse is in a hurry to get through the divorce process and doesn't consider the long term implications of paying spousal support for 10-20 years or more. Litigation often presents a tremendous advantage in resolving spousal support in your favor.

Competent Representation for Meaningful Results

Spousal support in Santa Barbara is a complicated legal process that warrants hiring a lawyer. Given the variations in the law and the numerous factors affecting the amount of spousal support from one party to the other, it is in your best interest to seek sound legal advice from experienced counsel.  At the Law Office of Channe G. Coles, we work diligently to negotiate, litigate, draft, and implement spousal support orders that are fair, equitable, and an accurate reflection of the specific needs of our clients without sacrificing valuable rights. Whether your matter requires a simple amicable agreement or consideration of highly complicated financial assets, we offer competent advice and guidane in achieving favorable spousal support terms for our clients. We also assist clients who seek modification of an existing support order due to change in circumstances and can assist in enforcing any existing order for spousal support.

To speak to an attorney at the Law Office of Channe G. Coles about spousal support in a Santa Barbara County divorce or family law matter, please visit us online at www.ccsblaw.com or call us at (805) 617-4618 for a free confidential consultation.

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