With respect to termination of spousal support, this may be accomplished through a variety of ways. By operation of law, the death of either party or the remarriage of the supported spouse automatically terminates a spousal support order. In addition, when determining the initial permanent spousal support orders, courts have the ability to determine the specific length of the spousal support order in appropriate cases. Thus, they have the ability to set a specific date in time in the future where spousal support will terminate automatically. If we are representing a payor spouse, we make a concerted effort to request that the court set a specific date for termination of spousal support at the earliest possible time. This dispenses with the need to file a motion to terminate spousal support in the future. In marriages of short duration (less than ten years), spousal support generally does not extend beyond one-half the length of the marriage. In marriages of long duration (more than ten years), the courts cannot terminate jurisdiction over spousal support at the time of trial and they are not limited by the one-half the length of the marriage requirement. This usually means that, where permanent spousal support is ordered by the court in a long-term marriage, a post-judgment order to show cause or noticed motion most likely will need to be filed in the future in order to terminate spousal support.
In determining whether or not a termination of spousal support is warranted, the court must look at all of the factors that bear upon the existing spousal support order. This will include an assessment of whether or not the supported spouse has made efforts to seek work and/or become self-supporting, the length of time support has been paid, the assets of the supported spouse and whether or not they can assist in providing financial support, any co-habitation with a member of the opposite sex by the supported spouse, and the ability of the payor spouse to continue paying spousal support, including the payor spouse reaching legal retirement age. As with any modification of spousal support, the passage of time, alone, is not a sufficient basis to terminate spousal support. It is particularly important to note, however, that even in long-term marriages, there is no such thing as “lifetime spousal support.” California appellate decisions have held that there is an absolute right for a payor spouse to retire at age 65.
Todd Coulston is a partner at The Law Offices of Burch & Coulston LLP servicing Orange County, Los Angeles County and Southern California. He is a member of the State Bar of California, the American Bar Association, Orange County Bar Association, and the Family Law Section of the Orange County Bar Association.