How Can You Terminate Spousal Support in California?
Termination of spousal support, called “alimony,” in California is often a hotly debated issue. Both spouses frequently fight over this type of financial support during divorce proceedings and after the final divorce judgment.
Alimony termination laws substantially vary depending on the length of the marriage. Put simply, in short-term marriages, spousal support is often easier to terminate. In contrast, long-term marriages are usually more contested and sometimes become a high-conflict matter in a California family law courtroom.
In either case, alimony termination starts with a request for a court order. Specifically, when you seek end spousal support, you will file a formal request with the court, and they will set a court date to review it.
Most people know that spousal support is designed to provide financial support to the lesser-earning spouse until they can become self-sustaining. Unfortunately, this means the receiving spouse does not have the financial capacity to pay for basic daily expenses or to maintain their marital standard of living.
In other words, alimony obligations enable the receiving spouse to maintain the living standard they were accustomed to during their marital relationship.
In almost all cases, the order to pay spousal support is not permanent. It's temporary or even long-term, but it will, at some point, expire. Many receiving spouses believe it expires too soon or does not give them enough time to put themselves in a position of being able to support themselves financially.
So, in this article, we'll take a closer look at the conditions under which spousal support duties could be terminated as defined by California law.
What Does California Law Say About Ending Spousal Support?
Some California Family Codes directly address the issue of ending spousal support. Let's take a look at the most common below.
Family Code 4321 says, “In a judgment of dissolution of marriage or legal separation of the parties, the court can deny support to a party out of the separate property of the other party if (a) The party has separate property, or is earning the party's own livelihood, or there is community property sufficient to give the party proper support, or (b) The custody of the children has been awarded to the other party, who is supporting them.”
Family Code 4322 says, “In an original or modification proceeding, where there are no children, and a party has or acquires a separate estate, including income from employment, sufficient for the party's proper support, no support shall be ordered or continued against the other party.”
Family Code 4325 says, "(a) In a proceeding for dissolution of marriage where there is a criminal conviction for a domestic violence misdemeanor or terms of probation under Penal Code 1203.097 PC perpetrated by one spouse against the other within five years before the filing of the dissolution proceeding or during the divorce process, there shall be a presumption that (1) An award of spousal support to the convicted spouse from the injured spouse is prohibited….”
Family Code 4337 says, “Except as otherwise agreed by the parties in writing, the obligation of a party under an order for the support of the other party terminates upon the death of either party or the remarriage of the other party.”
What Are the Ways Alimony Can Be Terminated?
There are several ways to terminate alimony payments depending on the circumstances, including the following:
- Voluntary termination;
- Former spouse remarries;
- Change in the circumstances;
- Former spouse becomes self-supporting
The quickest way to end spousal support obligations is through an agreement with your former spouse, called “voluntary termination.” In other words, it's a consensual agreement to end alimony payments.
Suppose the financial situation of either spouse changes to a level where alimony should be terminated. In that case, they can reach a voluntary agreement to end it at any point. If the former spouse refuses to stop spousal support obligations, the paying spouse can petition the court to terminate the payments.
Another way to end alimony is when your former spouse remarries or when they die. As noted, Family Code 4337 says that a spouse's responsibility for maintaining the other spouse will end when they die or get remarried.
Of note is that cohabitation with another person by the supported spouse does not automatically result in the termination of the spousal support payments. Still, it could be a solid case to end it. Also of note is that alimony payments don't end when you retire.
Another way is by changed circumstances that justify the termination of spousal support. This means showing the that a modification of the current order is necessary.
Suppose the paying spouse lost their job and has no income, making them financially unable to make alimony payments. In that case, the judge could end alimony payments until they can find a new job.
Yet another way to terminate spousal support is when your former spouse becomes self-supporting. Under California law, supported spouses are required to become self-sufficient within a reasonable amount of time, known as a “Gavron Warning.”
Alimony support orders typically last roughly half the length of the marriage when less than ten years. The judge can terminate alimony if the supported spouse has failed to become self-sustaining since separation.
Also, if your ex-spouse's income has increased, you have a valid case for the judge to terminate or lower support payments. Dating someone after divorce will not generally have any impact on spousal support payments. If there has been a change in circumstances, it may be possible to modify a spousal support order.
How Can You Stop Alimony Payment Sooner?
As noted above, terminating spousal support obligations sooner will always depend on the facts of the case. The paying spouse must get approval from the California family law court before stopping payments. The first step is to submit the following forms:
- petition for termination of spousal support (FL-430);
- income and expense declaration (FL-150); and
- spousal or partner declaration attachment (FL-157).
There is a $60 filing fee that can be waived. The supported spouse must also complete an income and expense declaration form.
You'll need to present relevant documentation with the request, including the grounds for submitting a petition to stop alimony obligations sooner.
Further, a current financial statement showing how much money was made and a list of monthly bills showing expenses for a certain period. In other words, you need documentation showing that your request is warranted.
The clerk will schedule a court date. The judge will listen to both sides and examine the information during the hearing. The court will then make a ruling based on the presented information.
If the judge denies the petition, paying spouse must keep making spousal support payments as previously ordered, but they could consider lowering the payments.
Terminating spousal support payments could be challenging, so you need to consult a family law lawyer for guidance.
We can offer legal advice on the chances of success and help you prepare the legal documentation needed to request spousal support payment termination.
California's family court proceedings are often complex, and you will need legal representation to have the best chance of success. You can contact our Certified Family Law Specialist for a free case evaluation via phone or through the contact form.
Furman & Zavatsky are Los Angeles divorce and family law attorneys who provide legal assistance throughout Southern California.