The issue of spousal support is often a hot topic in divorce proceedings. In today’s economy, one specific aspect of spousal support that becomes a very important consideration the couples going through a divorce is whether the spousal support order will be modifiable or non-modifiable. Typically, an agreement for spousal support awarded to either party is subject to subsequent modification or termination by court order. However, Family Code Section 3591(c) provides that the parties may agree in writing (or oral agreement entered into in open court) to non-modifiable spousal support.
Modifiable spousal support means that a party could later file a post-judgment action with the court to request an increase, decrease or termination of spousal support upon demonstration of a change in circumstances that would justify a change to the original spousal support award. There are several reasons that a spousal support order might need to be changed. Perhaps the spouse who is receiving support no longer needs as much spousal support because he/she has had an increase in income or is cohabitating with a person of the opposite sex. Or if the supported spouse remarries, then spousal support needs to be terminated all together. On another note, sometimes the payee spouse, for reasons out of his/her control, has a significant decrease in income and can no longer afford the amount of spousal support that was ordered. The court would likely consider these factors in making a modification to the support order.
Non-modifiable spousal support, on the other hand, means the spousal support award will not be subject to modification or termination. Many divorcing couples may wonder if this is a good idea. The most common reasons why parties would want to agree to non-modifiable spousal support is that it gives both parties a sense of certainty because they know exactly how much they will be paying or receiving each month. This helps parties budget accordingly for future payments and expenses without having to worry that the amount may change at any time. Another reason a party would be inclined to agree to non-modifiable spousal support is if that party is expecting an increase in his/her income or a major upcoming payout, then he/she would not have to share that increase in income with his/her spouse.
While it may seem like there are some pretty good reasons to agree to non-modifiable spousal support, it is important to remember that if the parties waive their right to modify, it does not matter if there is a change in circumstances – a court absolutely will not modify the spousal support award. So, if the party receiving support wins the lottery jackpot, the payor spouse would still be stuck paying spousal support to him/her. Or, on the other hand, if the payor spouse becomes completely disabled and can no longer afford to pay spousal support, he/she will still on the hook for a spousal support payment, despite his/her inability to work.
Despite the uncertainty with modifiable spousal support, parties seem to have greater motivation these days to choose modifiable spousal support due to the high rate of unemployment. To ensure that you make the right decision regarding modifiable or non-modifiable spousal support it may behoove you to seek the assistance of an experienced divorce attorney.
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Nancy J. Bickford is the only attorney in San Diego County representing clients in divorces, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don’t settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 for more information about the consultation process.