Modification and Requests to Extend Spousal Support Orders

Posted on September 18th, 2012

California Family Law Specialists in Spousal Support Issues

In the recent case of Irmo Khera & Sameer, (2012) (filed from the 6th Dist. on June 19, 2012), the Court of Appeal decided on several important issues having to do with post-judgment modification requests to extend spousal support beyond an agreed upon time.  Husband’s dissolution petition was filed in 2003. The parties 2007 settlement agreement was reflected in a 2008 judgment that provided for monthly support of $2,650 that was stepped down over three years to zero “unless, before that date, Wife files a motion to have spousal support continued and shows good cause as to why the Court should order spousal support to be continued.”

Wife filed a request to extend and modify spousal support in 2010, citing her contention that she agreed to the stipulation under duress and because Husband failed to make full financial disclosures. She asserted that the judgment’s spousal support provisions were “grossly inequitable” and that her standard of living was far below the marital standard.  Husband was a very high income earner and Wife was a social worker.

Wife’s points and authorities argued that she was not required to show changed circumstances to modify support because the judgment specifically allowed her to do so. Citing Irmo Beust, (1994) 23 Cal.App.4th 29 she alternatively argued that changed circumstances can be grounded on a showing of “unrealized expectations” if she showed she made reasonable efforts to become self-supporting. Wife explained that despite full time enrollment in the doctoral program, she had not yet met all of the necessary requirements in order to graduate.  The trial court denied Wife’s motion without even considering the Family Code 4320 factors.

The Court of Appeal looked to the case of Richmond, which is the typical case cited for automatic step-downs in spousal support.  A “Richmond Order” provides for contingent termination of spousal support on a specific date unless before that time, the supported spouse brings a motion to modify for good cause. (Irmo Richmond, (1980) 105 Cal.App.3d 352.)  “[A] spousal support order may … be fashioned … to encourage such supportive self-reliance and to discourage delay in preparation for or in seeking, or refusal of, available employment.” (Id. at p. 356.) A Richmond order expects that with reasonable diligence the supported party will be self-supporting by the date set for support payments to end. (Irmo Berland, (1989) 215 Cal.App.3d 1257, 1260.) It places the burden of showing good cause for a change in the order upon the one who is most able to exercise the control necessary to meet the expectations the trial judge had in making the order.” (Irmo Prietsch & Calhoun, (1987) 190 Cal.App.3d 645, 665-666.)  Part of the analysis requires the moving party to show that there has been a material change in circumstances.

In this case, the Court of Appeal decided that Wife didn’t provide any evidence of material change of circumstances, thus it was unnecessary to analyze whether or not spousal support should be modified.  If you have a spousal support issue in your case, call us today at (619) 284-4113.