Termination of spousal support jurisdiction is always a highly contested issue. The party paying support wants spousal support terminated as soon as possible, and the party receiving support would prefer support be paid forever. Which party will get what they want will depend on the facts of the case.
At the outset I want to explain what we mean by “terminating spousal support jurisdiction” What we are actually saying is the point at which the Court decides no spousal support will ever be due from one party to the other. It is the final decision that spousal support is no longer necessary.
There are different reasons why a Court might terminate spousal support, but for the purpose of this blog we are looking at the Court’s authority to terminate spousal support jurisdiction pursuant to Family Code §4322.
Family Code §4322 says, “In an original or modification proceeding, where there are no children, and a party has or acquires a separate estate, including income from employment, sufficient for the party’s proper support, no support shall be ordered or continued against the other party.”
In layman’s terms, Family Code 4322 says that so long as there are no minor children, if the party who is receiving support has enough money from their assets or their job to pay their expenses then the Court must terminate spousal support jurisdiction.
A simple illustration should help to explain how Family Code §4322 could be applied. Following a long term marriage of 20 years, the Court enters a Judgment that Husband is ordered to pay Wife $3,000 month in spousal support. Wife, only 40 years at the time, never worked outside the home. Following the divorce, Wife went back to school to become a school teacher. 8 years after the divorce, the parties’ children are all adults and Wife is working as a teacher earning $4,600 a month. If Husband were to file a motion to terminate spousal support based on Section 4322, he would be able to show that Wife’s income was now sufficient to meet her proper support and the court would likely terminate spousal support jurisdiction.
Having provided that example, just because we are able to simplify the statute for our readers does not mean this is a simple analysis to understand or apply.
There is only one published case addressing the application of Family Code §4322 to terminate spousal support jurisdiction in a post judgment setting and that is Marriage of Terry. The Court’s opinion in the Terry case, illustrates how a rather straight forward statute can be complicated when applied to the facts of a case.
In Terry the Court of Appeal terminated SS Jurisdiction following a trial on Husband’s post Judgment spousal support termination hearing. Husband and Wife had been married for 34 years prior to their divorce. Wife (61 at the time of the last hearing and not working a job) had expenses of between $10k-$12k per month and her separate estate (~$3.75mil) was generating some income, but not enough to meet her expenses. (It must be noted that the investments were not generating enough income because Wife was using a growth strategy for her investments; thus instead of maximizing income, she was maximizing growth.)
The trial Court denied Husband’s request to terminate under Section 4322 (his third request to terminate under Section 4322), finding that Husband had not met his burden of showing Wife’s estate was sufficient for her proper support. On appeal, the Court of Appeal reversed the trial court and terminated spousal support jurisdiction, finding; the Court may apply Section 4322 where supported spouse has a separate property estate that would be “adequate or sufficient” to meet his/her needs if reasonably managed.
The important part of the court’s holding is the phrase “if reasonably managed.” You see, the Court of appeal said if Wife were to adjust her investment strategy to be more income producing she would be generate more income and therefore her estate would be sufficient to meet her needs. (If that sounds simple, we assure you it was not.)
Whether you are the party paying support or the party receiving support, getting your Section 4322 case over the line and being successful requires a very detailed analysis of the facts of your case as well as significant preparation, including the use of experts and financial advisors. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Nancy J. Bickford have knowledge and expertise to assist you in any action related to the termination of spousal support jurisdiction under Family Code §4322.
Feel free to contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) in San Diego County who is also a licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA) with a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Don’t settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.