Different Spousal Support Orders a California Judge Can Make

California judges can make so many different types of spousal support orders, it can make a lawyers’ head spin, let alone the actual parties to a divorce. For instance, many people need help understanding the difference between a $0 spousal support order and an order where the Court terminates jurisdiction to award support (it turns out, there can be a huge difference). Let’s go over each type of spousal support order a Court can make.

An order awarding spousal support payable from one party to the other

This is almost too obvious to put here, but lets put it in for the sake of completeness. In this case, the Court has analyzed the Family Court section 4320 factors and awarded of amount of support. Jurisdiction to modify or terminate support has been reserved by the Court so it could change its order at a later date.

An order awarding spousal support to be stepped down in amount

This, too, is fairly straightforward. In this type of order, the Court orders reduced amounts of spousal support as time goes on, based on the assumption that the payee spouse will become more self-sufficient over time. The Court cannot make step down orders based on mere hopes or speculation. The record must demonstrate a factual basis for the step down.

An order awarding zero spousal support

In this case, the Court has declined to make an order for spousal support, but has left the door open for modification and/or termination at a later date, should circumstances change. This type of order is most often seen in long term marriages (marriages with a duration of at least 10 years).

An order terminating jurisdiction to award support

Here the Court is ordering that the Court can no longer make any type of spousal support order from one spouse to the other spouse. After jurisdiction to award support is terminated, the payee spouse can never get any spousal support from the payor spouse as a result of this marriage.

A “Richmond” Order

Named after the Marriage of Richmond case, this type of order tends to be favored by the Courts. It is an order where the Court agrees to terminate jurisdiction at a later date, unless the supported spouse shows good cause as to why support should continue. Richmond orders are designed to “encourage…supportive self-reliance and to discourage delay in preparation for or in seeking, or refusal of, available employment.” They are favored in all but the following situations:

(i) where spousal support either is not ordered or is ordered for a fixed term of short duration;

(ii) in very lengthy marriages where permanent support is justified;

or (iii) where the supported spouse cannot become self-sufficient

These are the basic orders the Court can make. It can also make a combination of these orders (for instance, it can order a step down with a termination date). It should be noted that the parties can agree to almost anything. For example, spouses frequently “buy out” the other spouse with a lump sum instead of paying said spouse over a long period of time. There is no statutory authority for a California judge to make such an order unless the parties agree to it.

Our office is well-versed in handling spousal support matters. 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.


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