Do California judges order permanent and indefinite spousal support?
In California, it’s not common any more that a judge will permanently grant or indefinitely grant spousal support, except in a limited class of cases. I think that the courts have become more gender blind. I think the courts have backed away from marriage being viewed as a possible basis for one spouse’s retirement from the workforce and that spouse support will now take the place of individual industry, effort, and earnings. So permanent and indefinite awards of support are uncommon. There are common instances where people divorce at a much later stage of their life, where a judge might look into the future and say, “I don’t really see any reason to expect that the financial circumstances of the parties will change and therefore I don’t anticipate a need to automatically revisit these circumstances in the future.”
Most courts will make an order that will, upon a change of circumstance, a material change in either one spouse’s ability to pay or one spouse’s need for support, modifies support at any time.
In California, the parties can agree to make a support award non-modifiable; cannot be revisited, cannot be changed as to amount or duration. The court can’t order that unless the parties have agreed to it, in which instance the court can approve the agreement and make an order on that.
It is an open question in Nevada whether parties can even agree to a non-modifiable spousal support arrangement that cannot be revisited in the future. So I think in terms of permanent awards, they’re limited to very specific circumstances. I think most spouses will have to expect that their obligation to pay and their right to receive support are going to be subject to either further discussion and agreement between the parties, or further litigation in the future unless you’re divorcing at a very late stage in your life.
Leslie Shaw practices family law in both California and Nevada, and has been involved in close to 1,000 family law matters largely involving litigation throughout his 40 year career. He is also a Certified Family Law Attorney, a status granted by the California Board of Legal Specialization.