Byron Scott, former coach of the L.A. Lakers, has filed for a modification of spousal support following his newfound unemployment after being fired from the Lakers in April. Byron was married to his college sweetheart, Anita Scott for 29 years. He filed for divorce in 2014, right before he signed his contract with the Lakers; a $17 million contract at that.
At that time, Byron’s income averaged $300,000 per month and he was ordered to pay $26,000 per month in spousal support to Anita. Now, his only income is $50,000 per month, as deferred compensation from his time with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Because it is deferred compensation for work that he did while he was married, that income is community property, and ½ of it belongs to Anita under California law.
Now, Byron has asked that spousal support be cut down to zero, at least for the time being. He claims that all the NBA teams already have their coaching positions filled, and because the season has just ended, there isn’t an alternative employment opportunity for him (such as analyst or commentator.) As such, he doesn’t anticipate finding a new job until next year.
Although it has only been two years since the Scott’s divorce, it is notable that the court still has jurisdiction, or the legal ability, to modify spousal support. In a long-term marriage, which is defined by California law as one lasting 10 years or longer, a court retains jurisdiction over spousal support indefinitely (unless there was an express order or agreement that terminates spousal support and jurisdiction over spousal support at some point in the future.) Because Byron and Anita were married for 29 years, the court no doubt still has jurisdiction to hear Byron’s request and order a modification of support if it sees fit.
Under California law, a court with jurisdiction over spousal support may order a modification of support so long as the party trying to get the modification can show that there has been a change of circumstances. The trial court will determine whether a modification of support is proper on a case-by-case basis, meaning that the outcome of each case may vary. Accordingly, even if there has been a change of circumstances that does not necessarily mean that a court will automatically grant a request for modification.
A change in employment status is often the reason why a spousal support payor will go to court to request a modification or reduction in his or her spousal support obligation. However, while the change in circumstance just opens the door for the party to be allowed to get into court and request a change, the court must still consider all of the relevant circumstances. Section 4320 of the California family code lists all of the factors that the court must consider when making a change in support (also required when making an initial support order.) For example, one of the considerations of the court is the assets of each party. So, even though a party may be temporarily unemployed, if that party has a lot of assets while the supported spouse does not, this may be a reason for the court to deny the request for modification.
Byron’s request is set to be heard soon. As you can see, the court has a lot of discretion in ordering or modifying spousal support, so even though Byron is now unemployed, that does not mean that the court will automatically grant his request. And, if the request is granted, as soon as Byron does get a job, Anita will be able to go back to court to request another modification based on the new change of circumstance (e.g. increased income from employment.)
If you have suffered a change in circumstances that impacts your ability to pay spousal support or if the other party has filed a motion to modify your support orders, it is important that you meet with a qualified family law attorney to discuss your rights. The attorneys at Bickford Blado & Botros are experienced and well-versed in issues surrounding setting and/or modifying spousal support orders.
Please 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.