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.
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*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.