Spousal Support Termination: Former Wife's Marriage-Like Ceremony Did Not Terminate Former Husband's Obligation to Pay Spousal Support

October 23, 2012, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone
By Law Offices of James V. Sansone on October 23, 2012 8:00 AM |

Spousal SUPPORT.jpgAndrew and Andrea had been married for less than five years when they separated in 2006. Andrew was a stock trader and Andrea, who had been a practicing attorney, stayed at home with the parties' young children. Andrea filed a petition for dissolution and requested temporary spousal and child support. The parties stipulated that Andrew would pay Andrea $32,547 per month in spousal support and $14,590 per month in child support.

In December 2008, Andrea became engaged to Todd. Andrea and Todd sent out invitations for a May 2009 wedding, registered for gifts, planned a honeymoon, and told their children they were getting married. However, according to Andrea, they decided not to marry while the litigation with Andrew was still unresolved. Rather than change their plans, however, they proceeded with the ceremony, and Andrea and Todd signed a traditional Jewish marriage contract. Immediately before the ceremony, the couple informed the rabbi that there had been a problem getting a marriage license. In June 2009, Andrea notified Andrew that she and Todd were not really married.

In October 2009, Andrew filed an OSC to terminate spousal support, on the grounds that Andrea had remarried. Alternatively, Andrew argued that spousal support should be terminated based on the following factors: his marriage to Andrea had been short term and he had already paid spousal support for a period exceeding half the length of their marriage; despite having a law degree, Andrea had made no effort to become self-supporting; and Andrea was cohabiting with Todd. The next day, Andrea filed an application for writ of execution, claiming that Andrew owed her $247,666 in past due support for the period from December 2008 to October 2009. The court issued the writ the same day.

In September 2010, the trial court ruled on Andrew's motion to terminate spousal support. The court found that Andrea had not remarried and that her marriage-like ceremony with Todd did not affect spousal support. However, the court reduced spousal support to $20,000 per month based on her cohabitation with Todd. The court made the order retroactive to May 2010, when Andrew filed his updated Income and Expense Declaration, rather than October 2009, when Andrew filed his OSC. The court increased child support from $14,590 per month to $19,075 per month, reserving the issue of the retroactive start date of the increased support. Andrew appealed.

Andrew argued on appeal that his spousal support obligation terminated on May 2, 2009, when Andrea remarried [see Family Code § 4337]. The appellate court disagreed, finding that Andrea had not remarried. The court reasoned that the plain meaning of ''remarriage'' was unambiguous and required entry into a valid, legal marriage, which in turn required a marriage license [see Fam. Code § 300(a)].

I speak to many people who believe that if they were married under 10 years spousal support must only be 1/2 the length of the marriage. That is a guideline and is not a bright line rule. It sets forth a ''goal'' that the supported party shall be self-supporting within a reasonable period of time. However, the section provides that nothing in the section is intended to limit the court's discretion to order support for a greater or lesser length of time, based on any of the other factors listed in section 4320 or 4336, as well as the circumstances of the parties.

At the Santa Rosa Law Offices of James V. Sansone, we help clients throughout Sonoma County, Mendocino County, and Lake County, including Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Cotati, Rohnert Park, Sebastopol, Healdsburg, Sonoma, Kenwood, Glen Ellen, Windsor, Bodega Bay, Ukiah, Willits, Clearlake, Lakeport, and Kelseyville protect their financial interests involving child and spousal support.