How Can Alimony Be Canceled or Modified in California?

By Wayne Thomas

Since divorce can be seen as a fresh start to a new life, it is no surprise that personal relationships and finances will change for former spouses over time. When it comes to spousal support, also known as alimony, judges must make initial orders based on conditions as they exist at the time of divorce. However, as circumstances change, California courts have discretion to either modify or cancel support orders. Situations that can affect the payment amounts may include loss of income by the paying spouse, cohabitation by the receiving spouse, or the receiving spouse's failure to make appropriate efforts to become self-supporting.

Duration of Marriage

A court may award alimony only for a specified length of time, after which the award expires automatically. Although a judge is not bound by any specific calculation for spousal support, the duration of the marriage is one factor that will be taken into consideration when determining how long support payments should last. Specifically, the longer the marriage, the longer one should expect the support obligation to continue. Marriages of less than 10 years duration rarely lead to support awards of greater than five years.

Reduced Income

The California courts have discretion to modify spousal support payments if such action is determined to be necessary. For instance, If the paying spouse experiences a decrease in income, as in the loss of employment, or an increase in expenses, the change in circumstances may provide sufficient grounds for a modification and reduction in support payment amounts. A judge will will look at the totality of the facts to ensure that the change in income was not contrived in order to avoid the obligation.

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Encouraging Self-Support

By law, California places a priority on both spouses' becoming self-supporting, particularly for marriages of short duration. In other words, reduction and elimination of the alimony award is a goal that should not be intentionally avoided by the receiving spouse. In that instance, a judge can reduce the award or terminate it entirely.

Effect of Cohabitation

Unless a written agreement exists to the contrary, if the receiving spouse decides to cohabit with a member of the opposite sex, judges in California may invoke a rebuttable presumption that the support from the ex-spouse is no longer necessary. While this effectively switches the burden of proof from the paying spouse to the receiving spouse, it can be overcome by evidence that the living arrangement does not provide increased support to the receiving spouse.

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