Modification of Spousal Support: The Duty to Become Self-Supporting

Posted September 24, 2012 in Family Law by Lonich and Patton.

To modify a spousal support order, the moving party must show a material change of circumstances since the last order, even if the parties stipulated to the prior order.  A recent case, In re Marriage of Khera and Sameer, addressed if a party’s unrealized expectation that she would become self-supporting as of the spousal support order’s specified termination date could be a basis to modify the order and extend the term of spousal support.

In Khera and Sameer, the parties’ spousal support order provided for termination of spousal support on a specific date unless, before that time, the ex-wife brought a motion to modify for good cause.  At the time that the parties entered into the agreement, Wife was not working but the parties anticipated that she would be working as a social worker and able to support herself by the termination date.

Wife filed a post-judgment motion to modify the spousal support order and extend the duration of support.  She argued that there was a change of circumstances in the form of “unrealized expectations” regarding her ability to support herself.  She alleged that the parties’ expectation that she would be employed as a social worker making $42,000 annually was not realized as she was making approximately $700 per month at the time she filed for modification.

On appeal, the court noted that a material change of circumstances could be in the form of unrealized expectations, but circumstances accounted for in the prior order cannot constitute a change of circumstances.

The court stated that so long as the supported spouse has made reasonable efforts to become self-supporting, a change of circumstances may be in the form of unrealized expectations in the ability of the supported spouse to become self-supporting within a reasonable period of time.  Ex-wife needed to make a showing that, “despite her reasonable efforts, she was unable to support herself” in order for her unrealized expectation of self-support to constitute a change of circumstances.  Wife’s declaration did not show that she diligently acted to achieve financial self-sufficiency or that despite her reasonable efforts, she was unable to obtain to obtain full time work.  Rather, Wife made a voluntary decision to pursue a doctoral degree rather than finishing her MSW degree and going to work full-time.  The court found no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s finding that the evidence was insufficient to show a material change in circumstances and refusal to modify the judgment to extend spousal support.**

The  certified Family Law Specialists as certified by The State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization at Lonich & Patton have decades of experience handling complex family law matters.  If you find yourself on either side of a spousal support modification, contact  Lonich & Patton for further information.

Please remember that each individual situation is unique and results discussed in this post are not a guarantee of future results.  While this post may detail general legal issues, it is not legal advice.  Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.

*In re Marriage of Khera and Sameer (2012) 206 Cal.App.4th 1467.

**The court considered other issues in determining whether there was a material change in circumstances since the last order, such as Wife’s debt and disparity in income between the ex-spouses, and the marital standard of living; however, we are focusing on the duty to become self-supporting. Please read the case to understand the breadth of the issues and reasoning of the court’s decision.

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