California Court States What is Needed to Assess a Request to Change Support

In many cases in which a couple gets divorced if there is a disparity in income between the spouses, the court will grant spousal support to the lesser earning spouse. The intention of spousal support is to allow the spouse with a lower income to enjoy the same lifestyle he or she enjoyed during the marriage. Most spousal support obligations are not permanent, however, but can be modified upon a showing of a significant change in circumstances. Recently, a California appellate court analyzed what constitutes a sufficient showing to warrant a modification in a case in which the husband appealed the trial court’s denial of his request to terminate spousal support. If you wish to modify a spousal support obligation, it is in your best interest to consult a trusted California spousal support attorney regarding your burden of proof.

Facts and Procedure of the Case

Reportedly, the husband and the wife were married for over twenty years. They filed a stipulated agreement to dissolve their marriage in 2014, which included an obligation for the husband to pay spousal support to the wife in the amount of $2,500 each month. The support obligation was to be reviewed in two years. In 2017, the husband filed a request for an order terminating the support obligation due to the wife’s new job and increased monthly income. Additionally, the husband engaged an expert who stated that the wife would require $3,300 per month to maintain the marital standard of living.

It is alleged that the wife opposed the husband’s request, arguing there were numerous factors the court must consider prior to ruling on the request, and requested an evidentiary hearing on the matter.  A settlement conference was unproductive, and the matter was scheduled for a two-day trial. Prior to the trial, the wife filed a brief arguing that there had not been a substantial change in circumstances and that she could not maintain her standard of living on her income alone. The court ruled in favor of the wife based solely on the wife’s brief. The husband then appealed. On review, the appellate court reversed the trial court ruling.

Deciding Whether to Modify a Support Obligation

Under California law, courts have broad leeway in determining whether to change a support obligation based on a change in circumstances. In exercising its discretion, however, the court must make a decision based on evidence and must abide by established principles of law. When a trial court abides with the requirements imposed upon it, its decision will be upheld. If a trial court issues a baseless ruling, however, it constitutes an abuse of discretion, as an evaluation of the evidence is needed to exercise judicial discretion properly.

In the subject case, the appellate court found that the trial court ruled that there had been no change in circumstances without evaluating any evidence. The appellate court was not persuaded by the wife’s argument that the trial court evaluated financial documents in making its decision. The court noted that the trial court is bound by the rules of evidence, and there were no documents submitted into evidence that the court could consider in deciding the issue. As such, the appellate court found that the trial court abused its discretion in failing to consider evidence, and reversed the trial court’s ruling.

Consult a Knowledgeable California Divorce Attorney

Although spousal support is necessary in some cases, it does not mean that it will always be necessary. If you wish to terminate or modify an existing support obligation, it is sensible to speak with a knowledgeable attorney regarding your options. Ethan M. Weisinger is a diligent California spousal support attorney who will analyze your case and develop a plan to help you seek your desired outcome. Mr. Weisinger can be reached at  925-258-2020 or via the online form to set up a confidential conference regarding your case.

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