controversial subject in family law. Different states have varied approaches
and policies for awarding spousal support after
divorce. For example, Texas state policy prohibits awarding alimony indefinitely.
Texas courts will only award “spousal maintenance”—an
amount necessary to help a financially disadvantaged spouse take care
of their living expenses while they try to become financially self-supporting.
In California, spousal support can be awarded for an extended length of
time, terminable only upon the death of either spouse or the remarriage
of the supported spouse. Further, the terms of a spousal support obligation
may only be modified or terminated when there has been a material change
The issue of whether the mere passage of time can serve as sufficient grounds
for changing or ending a spousal support order has been tossed around
by courts throughout the years. However, most courts today do not rely
on only one factor when resolving spousal support issues.
Factors Relevant to Calculating Spousal Support
Under California Family Code § 4320, a court must consider several
factors when determining spousal support issues. This ensures that the
court does not improperly focus on one factor at the expense of considering
other relevant factors. For example, the
marital standard of living established during marriage cannot be considered without factoring the
length of the parties’ marriage, their respective
earning potential, and the goal that the financially disadvantaged spouse eventually become
Modifying Spousal Support Obligations
A party may request the court to change the terms of a spousal support
obligation upon showing that a
material change in circumstances justifies such a change. For example, if a court decided to order spousal
support for a limited duration based on the prospect that the supported
spouse would secure gainful employment after two years, the fact that
the supported spouse suffered disabling injuries after a severe car accident
would justify extending its original support obligation beyond its initial
What constitutes a material change in circumstances justifying modification
of the court’s original spousal support order? Some courts have
held that the
failure of a basic assumption upon which the court crafted its original spousal support obligation will
justify a modification. Returning to the above example, the court made
an underlying assumption that the supported spouse would find adequate
work after two years. However, that assumption failed when the supported
spouse was disabled from a subsequent car accident.
The Passage of Time as Changed Circumstances
Does the passage of time qualify as a material change in circumstances
for purposes of modifying spousal support? Courts have held that the mere
passage of time is insufficient to justify modifying or ending a spousal
support obligation because the passage of time is not a change in circumstances.
While it may be true on a philosophical level that the clock of time is
continuously running, courts have considered the passage of time when
terminating spousal support in certain situations. In marriages of shorter
durations, California courts have granted termination of spousal support
obligations where a spouse had been paying support after divorce for nearly
the length of the marriage, even though the supported spouse still had
a need for support and the payor spouse still had an ability to pay.
Courts have also terminated spousal support obligations where the supported
spouse had the responsibility of requesting additional support beyond
two-years. Although the court allowed the supported spouse to extend the
obligation a few times, it ultimately terminated the order.
Ultimately, courts will consider how the passage of time affects other
factors that remain unchanged. Courts regularly account for how the duration
of marriage impacts the supported spouse’s ability to become economically
independent. As a result, the shorter the marriage, the better a spouse’s
chances are at rebounding from a divorce and re-entering the workforce.
For Quality Legal Representation, Contact Hanson, Gorian, Bradford & Hanich
Are you concerned about spousal support issues in your divorce proceedings?
If so, it is in your interest to find a dedicated attorney to advocate
for your rights. At Hanson, Gorian, Bradford & Hancih, we are committed
to advancing your legal interests while finding fair and effective solutions
to your family law dispute. You can count on us to deliver personalized
legal representation to address the specific circumstances of your case.
Contact Hanson, Gorian, Bradford & Hanich at (951) 506-6654 to
arrange for an initial consultation discussing the merits of your case and your legal options today.