Does the Passage of Time Justify Modifying Spousal Support Obligations?

A controversial subject in family law. Different states have varied approaches and policies for awarding spousal support after divorce. For example, Texas state policy prohibits awarding alimony indefinitely. Texas courts will only award “spousal maintenance”—an amount necessary to help a financially disadvantaged spouse take care of their living expenses while they try to become financially self-supporting.

In California, spousal support can be awarded for an extended length of time, terminable only upon the death of either spouse or the remarriage of the supported spouse. Further, the terms of a spousal support obligation may only be modified or terminated when there has been a material change in circumstances.

The issue of whether the mere passage of time can serve as sufficient grounds for changing or ending a spousal support order has been tossed around by courts throughout the years. However, most courts today do not rely on only one factor when resolving spousal support issues.

Factors Relevant to Calculating Spousal Support

Under California Family Code § 4320, a court must consider several factors when determining spousal support issues. This ensures that the court does not improperly focus on one factor at the expense of considering other relevant factors. For example, the marital standard of living established during the marriage cannot be considered without factoring the length of the parties’ marriage, their respective earning potential, and the goal that the financially disadvantaged spouse eventually become financially self-sufficient.

Modifying Spousal Support Obligations

A party may request the court to change the terms of a spousal support obligation upon showing that a material change in circumstances justifies such a change. For example, if a court decided to order spousal support for a limited duration based on the prospect that the supported spouse would secure gainful employment after two years, the fact that the supported spouse suffered disabling injuries after a severe car accident would justify extending its original support obligation beyond its initial two-year limit.

What constitutes a material change in circumstances justifying modification of the court’s original spousal support order? Some courts have held that the failure of a basic assumption upon which the court crafted its original spousal support obligation will justify a modification. Returning to the above example, the court made an underlying assumption that the supported spouse would find adequate work after two years. However, that assumption failed when the supported spouse was disabled from a subsequent car accident.

The Passage of Time as Changed Circumstances

Does the passage of time qualify as a material change in circumstances for purposes of modifying spousal support? Courts have held that the mere passage of time is insufficient to justify modifying or ending a spousal support obligation because the passage of time is not a change in circumstances.

While it may be true on a philosophical level that the clock of time is continuously running, courts have considered the passage of time when terminating spousal support in certain situations. In marriages of shorter durations, California courts have granted termination of spousal support obligations where a spouse had been paying support after divorce for nearly the length of the marriage, even though the supported spouse still had a need for support and the payor spouse still had an ability to pay.

Courts have also terminated spousal support obligations where the supported spouse had the responsibility of requesting additional support beyond two-years. Although the court allowed the supported spouse to extend the obligation a few times, it ultimately terminated the order.

Ultimately, courts will consider how the passage of time affects other factors that remain unchanged. Courts regularly account for how the duration of marriage impacts the supported spouse’s ability to become economically independent. As a result, the shorter the marriage, the better a spouse’s chances are at rebounding from a divorce and re-entering the workforce.

For Quality Legal Representation, Contact Hanson, Gorian, Bradford & Hanich

Are you concerned about spousal support issues in your divorce proceedings? If so, it is in your interest to find a dedicated attorney to advocate for your rights. At Hanson, Gorian, Bradford & Hancih, we are committed to advancing your legal interests while finding fair and effective solutions to your family law dispute. You can count on us to deliver personalized legal representation to address the specific circumstances of your case.

Contact Hanson, Gorian, Bradford & Hanich at (951) 506-6654 to arrange for an initial consultation discussing the merits of your case and your legal options today.


Request Your Consultation Today

Premier Legal Services for Criminal & Family Law Matters
  • Please enter your first name.
  • Please enter your last name.
  • Please enter your phone number.
    This isn't a valid phone number.
  • Please enter your email address.
    This isn't a valid email address.
  • Please make a selection.
  • Please enter a message.