A California Appellate Court has ruled that a supported spouse must file a request for spousal support modification within a reasonable time after child support order terminates. In the case of In Re Marriage of Kacik, Mother and Father were married in June 1983. They separated in May of 1999, and began divorce proceedings. On June 8, 2001, Trial Court entered their stipulated divorce judgment that, among other things, required Father to pay child support of $1,125 per month for their Son until Son reached age 18 years-old. It also required Father to pay Mother spousal support of $1,625 per month until February 15, 2008, when spousal support would be reduced to zero, with Trial Court retaining jurisdiction over that issue until "death, remarriage, or further order of the court." The divorce Judgment also stated that 46 years-old Mother was unemployed but had the ability to earn gross income of $1,000 per month; it pegged Father’s monthly gross income at $11,336.
In August 2006, Son turned 18 years-old, and the child support order terminated. On February 15, 2008, Mother filed Order to Show Cause, seeking spousal support increase to $2,000 per month. In supporting declaration, Mother stated that she was unable to find work that paid more than $15 per hour that she was earning as full-time worker; that zero spousal support order would require her to sell her house and leave Orange County; that she needed further spousal support to meet basic necessities of life; and that child support order had terminated. In responsive declaration, Father stated that he was paying entire cost of Son’s college education; he submitted an Income and Expense Declaration, showing an income of $13,907 per month.
After Trial Court granted a continuance, Father’s attorneys requested production of documents showing Mother’s efforts to become self-supporting. When Mother asserted that there were no documents, Father’s counsel filed supplemental declaration, claiming that Mother "had not really done anything to become self-supporting."
At a hearing on July 24, 2008, Trial Court found that (1) the parties’ marital standard of living was $5,668 per month; (2) spousal support payments of $1,625 per month did not meet marital standard of living; (3) Son not living at home any longer constituted changed circumstances; and (4) Mother’s current earnings "represented a sufficient effort to become self-supporting." Relying on California Family Code Section 4326 [termination of child support constitutes change of circumstances in spousal support proceeding if Trial Court has jurisdiction over spousal support and child support order is in effect], Trial Court ordered Father to continue paying spousal support of $1,625 per month, retroactive to February 15, 2008.
Father appealed, and a California Appellate Court has reversed Trial Court’s decision and has remanded the case back to Trial Court. Deciding a case of first impression, the Appellate Court has ruled that (1) the key issue here is meaning of phrase "child support order is in effect" in California Family Code Section 4326 (in other words, how long after order terminates may modification be requested?); (2) applying California Family Code Section 3901 [child support order is in effect until terminated by Trial Court order or operation of law] to exclude filings after termination would not carry out purpose of Section 4326 (increasing spousal support order shortchanged by high guideline child support order) and would deprive Trial Court of necessary information regarding supported spouse’s financial position; (3) modification request under Section 4326 need not be filed before child support terminates; (4) modification request under Section 4326 must be made within a reasonable time after the child support order terminates; and (5) time period in this case (17 months) was not too long. The Appellate Court has ruled that Trial Court erred by awarding increased spousal support on basis of California Family Code Section 4326. The Appellate Court reverses and remands the case back to the Trial Court, with directions to Trial Court to deny Mother’s modification request. Mother is not precluded from filing another Order to Show Cause for spousal support increase based on other changed circumstances.