When Can Spousal Support Be Changed?

Child and spousal support

Spousal support isn’t a “set it and forget it” issue. There are certain circumstances that allow for a spousal support order to later be modified. Let’s take a look at some of the particulars:

In California, there are two kinds of spousal support, each of which serves a slightly different purpose.  While a case is pending, before final judgment, the court can order what is called temporary spousal support, which is provided for under California Family Code § 3600. This amount can vary based on the circumstances of the parties and several counties have written local court rules that set a formula for determining how much this temporary support order should be.

For example, in San Diego County, we use the formula developed by the Santa Clara County Superior Court under Family Rule 3:  Child, Spousal, and Partner Support. The application of the rules for the various counties are generally programmed into proprietary software programs used by attorneys and the courts, such as Dissomaster, Xspouse, and Supportax.

You can also calculate an estimated support amount by using the California Department of Child Support Services online support calculator, though your attorney can provide you with a more accurate figure for support once you provide all the necessary financial information.

Modifying a Temporary Spousal Support Order  

Generally, a temporary support order can be modified at any time pending final judgment, but the court will still require some change of circumstances exist that will justify this change. The rules for establishing a § 3600 order must also be consistent with Family Code § 4320, where the factors the court must look at in establishing a “permanent” or long-term spousal support order are set forth.

A temporary spousal support order can last a very short time or for years while a case is pending final judgment, so keeping track of the financial circumstances of both parties during this time is very important. If things really change on one side or the other, then filing a motion to modify the temporary support order may be justified and should be done as soon as the new information is discovered.

Modifying a Permanent Spousal Support Order

With regard to a permanent or long-term spousal support order under § 4320, anytime a party wishes to make a modification to the spousal support after judgment, the court must consider once again all of the § 4320 factors and is expressly prohibited from using a computer program to establish any  § 4320 support.

In addition, a long-term spousal support order can be made non-modifiable in the divorce judgment, meaning the amount and length of time of payment of support may be established at the time the judgment is granted and finalized and could be fixed for a term of years or indefinitely.

In that situation, a motion to modify a “permanent” spousal support order may be granted only if a very significant change has occurred or not at all, depending on the discretion of the court and the then-current circumstances of the parties.

The decision to file a motion to modify or terminate long-term spousal support can be based on many factors, including but not limited to disability, remarriage of the supported spouse, cohabitation by the supported spouse, loss of employment, or retirement with a significant lowering of income and resources.

One thing to consider—and that you should discuss carefully with your San Diego divorce attorney—is that the court bases long-term spousal support on many factors, including the financial circumstances of the parties during the marriage, or the status quo at date of separation. If one party at some point develops a large increase in their income or assets post-judgment, that does not always entitle the other party to terminate or modify the support.  

Contact a San Diego Divorce Lawyer for Help With Spousal Support

When you’re going through a divorce, an experienced divorce attorney can help you understand the process, including matters concerning spousal support.

If you are considering divorce or have already made the difficult decision to pursue divorce and have questions, contact JWB Family Law to schedule a free consultation.

The Importance of the CFLS Designation

A Certified Family Law Specialist, or CFLS, is an attorney who has obtained certification in the standards of California family law and demonstrated optimal legal competence. Attorneys who obtain this certification have specific expertise in all aspects of family law, which includes divorce or the dissolution of marriagechild and spousal support, child custody, and temporary restraining orders, among other areas of emphasis.

Not every attorney practicing family law has obtained this certification. In fact, the designation remains relatively rare—there are fewer than 2,000 CFLS attorneys in California and fewer than 200 in San Diego.

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