To modify a spousal support order, the moving party must show a material change of circumstances since the last order, even if the parties stipulated to the prior order. A recent case, In re Marriage of Khera and Sameer, addressed if a party’s unrealized expectation that she would become self-supporting as of the spousal support order’s specified termination date could be a basis to modify the order and extend the term of spousal support.
In Khera and Sameer, the parties’ spousal support order provided for termination of spousal support on a specific date unless, before that time, the ex-wife brought a motion to modify for good cause. At the time that the parties entered into the agreement, Wife was not working but the parties anticipated that she would be working as a social worker and able to support herself by the termination date.
Wife filed a post-judgment motion to modify the spousal support order and extend the duration of support. She argued that there was a change of circumstances in the form of “unrealized expectations” regarding her ability to support herself. She alleged that the parties’ expectation that she would be employed as a social worker making $42,000 annually was not realized as she was making approximately $700 per month at the time she filed for modification.
On appeal, the court noted that a material change of circumstances could be in the form of unrealized expectations, but circumstances accounted for in the prior order cannot constitute a change of circumstances.
The court stated that so long as the supported spouse has made reasonable efforts to become self-supporting, a change of circumstances may be in the form of unrealized expectations in the ability of the supported spouse to become self-supporting within a reasonable period of time. Ex-wife needed to make a showing that, “despite her reasonable efforts, she was unable to support herself” in order for her unrealized expectation of self-support to constitute a change of circumstances. Wife’s declaration did not show that she diligently acted to achieve financial self-sufficiency or that despite her reasonable efforts, she was unable to obtain to obtain full time work. Rather, Wife made a voluntary decision to pursue a doctoral degree rather than finishing her MSW degree and going to work full-time. The court found no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s finding that the evidence was insufficient to show a material change in circumstances and refusal to modify the judgment to extend spousal support.**
The certified Family Law Specialists as certified by The State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization at Lonich Patton Ehrlich Policastri have decades of experience handling complex family law matters. If you find yourself on either side of a spousal support modification, contact Lonich Patton Ehrlich Policastri for further information.
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*In re Marriage of Khera and Sameer (2012) 206 Cal.App.4th 1467.
**The court considered other issues in determining whether there was a material change in circumstances since the last order, such as Wife’s debt and disparity in income between the ex-spouses, and the marital standard of living; however, we are focusing on the duty to become self-supporting. Please read the case to understand the breadth of the issues and reasoning of the court’s decision.