Revising Spousal Support Awards in California Divorce Cases – In re Marriage of Gartman

A person seeking to increase or decrease spousal support payments in California generally has to show that the circumstances have significantly changed since the support award was initially ordered. In a recent case, the state’s Third District Court of Appeals explained that a court can’t modify a support award if it doesn’t know how the first court originally determined the award amount.

Husband and Wife separated some time before 2008, the year in which they went to trial on various issues related to their divorce, one of them being spousal support. Husband filed documentation indicating that his monthly income was roughly $34,000 in salary, wages, and bonuses, that his monthly expenses were just under $9,500, and that he owned real property worth about $450,000. Wife, on the other hand, said she was making about $8,300 per month and had more than $8,400 per month in expenses. She also stated that she owned about $700,000 in real estate.

A trial judge dissolved the marriage and ordered Husband to pay Wife spousal support on a sliding scale through 2023. Husband was ordered to pay Wife $3,000 per month and 30 percent of his annual bonus in the first five years, $2,000 per month and 20 percent of his annual bonus over the next five years, and $1,000 per month and 10 percent over the last five years.

Wife filed a motion to modify spousal support in September 2011, claiming that she was no longer earning income from Wolf Pack, LLC. Wife said the company, which had been her main source of income, was a “family limited partnership” created by her sister and brother-in-law and that they had liquidated the business’ assets. Wife added that she had sought to become self-sufficient by purchasing a small boutique business. Nevertheless, she said that without more spousal support she would be forced to live on about $4,000 per month, while Husband was earning around $30,000 monthly.

In response, Husband said his financial condition was “a lot worse” than when the support order was issued and that he had three mortgages on properties worth less than the money that he owed. He claimed that his monthly expenses exceeded $22,000 – just higher than his monthly income – and that his properties were underwater to the tune of around $403,000. Husband further argued that Wife’s loss of Wolf Pack income wasn’t a change of circumstances warranting a spousal support modification because before the support order was issued Wife had told the trial judge that she didn’t expect to keep getting disbursements from the company.

The court denied Wife’s motion to modify the spousal support, finding that the original judge treated Wife’s interest in the Wolf Pack business as an asset, not monthly income. As a result, the court said the judge hadn’t included that money in determining the appropriate amount of support. The loss of the asset, therefore, wasn’t a sufficient change in circumstances to warrant increasing the support payments.

Affirming the decision on appeal, the Third District said it couldn’t determine how the Wolf Pack interest was treated at the trial because Wife didn’t provide a copy of the trial transcript. “It is the burden of the appellant to provide an adequate record for us to assess claims of error,” the Court explained. “When an appeal is on the judgment roll, we must conclusively presume evidence was presented that is sufficient to support the court’s findings.”

This case is a good example of the many reasons that divorcing spouses can avoid the time, cost, and stress associated with traditional divorce by considering alternatives like mediation and collaborative divorce. These options are particularly attractive to couples who are committed to solving problems rather than arguing over who is to blame and are willing to engage in open, honest, and respectful communication.

With offices throughout the Bay Area, California divorce lawyer Lorna Jaynes approaches divorce cases as a problem to be solved, not a battle to be won. She handles each case personally, taking the time to understand each individual client’s needs and interests and explaining the various options for resolving these matters. Call us at (510) 795-6304 or contact us online to set up an appointment.

Related blog posts:

Follow Procedural Rules in California Divorce Cases, Or It Might Cost You Your Case – In re Marriage of Kosharek

Sanctions, Fees Ordered for Spouse who Concealed Income in Divorce Case – In re Marriage of Vazquez

Court: No Spousal Support for Domestic Abusers – In re Marriage of Kelkar

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