Modification of Permanent Spousal Support Awards

Posted on November 21st, 2010

Permanent spousal support orders may be modified post-judgment

Many recipients or obligors of spousal support ask the question, “Can a “permanent” spousal support order be modified?” The answer is generally yes.

Permanent spousal support orders are subject to modification if the court that originally issued the order reserved jurisdiction over that issue. In most cases, divorce judgments incorporating marital settlement agreements specifically detail the extent of the court’s jurisdiction to modify spousal support after the judgment is first entered. An agreement may say that jurisdiction is only reserved for five years, for example. In some cases agreements state that the court reserves jurisdiction indefinitely because no end date is established.

If a divorce case concludes by a trial, the trial court judicial officer can either set a termination of jurisdiction date, or if the parties were married for approximately ten years or more and the marriage is determined to be a “long term marriage” under Family Code 4336, no termination date will be set. The court does have the power to create a “step down” order, where spousal support is decreased over time. In the event the court does enter such a step down order, the court must find specific facts that warrant such a step down order.

Either party may file a noticed motion to ask the court to modify a permanent spousal support order. The person filing the motion must show the court that there has been at least some changed circumstances since the original order was entered. Absent such a showing, the motion will be denied. There are no set rules as to what might constitute a changed circumstance, but examples include a reduction in salary or rental income, loss of property, increased earnings in certain circumstances, cohabitation by the recipient of spousal support with someone of the opposite sex (see Family Code 4323), loss of healthcare benefits, reduction or loss of child support payments, failure to comply with a Gavron warning (i.e. a warning that every person should strive to become self-supporting) by the supported spouse, or other basic changes in a person’s life.

Once a party has shown that some changed circumstance exists, the court must then analyze and weigh all relevant factors listed within Family Code 4320. Notably, this is the same code section that the court uses to order permanent spousal support in the first place. A detailed discussion of the 4320 factors can be found on our our Orange County office website.

In cases where a divorce judgment says that a permanent spousal support order is “non-modifiable” the order may not be modified, even upon a showing of changed circumstances.

For more information on spousal support, click here.

Contact our spousal support experts

Our Certified Family Law Specialists located in San Diego are available to answer your questions about modifying spousal support orders right now. We are available by email or by telephone at (619) 284-4113.