Spousal support is a thorny issue in divorce for both the payor and the recipient. While nowadays few divorces involve spousal support, there are divorces that do. If you are paying spousal support, this may be the largest financial obligation you will incur in life. Even reducing your monthly payment by a seemingly small amount can lead to significant savings over the years. A $200 reduction per month translates to $24,000 in savings over 10 years. You must act to reduce, and, possibly, eliminate spousal support because the court will not reduce your payment if you don’t do anything about it.
Whether it has been 1 year or 10 years since your divorce, the supported spouse must make reasonable efforts to become self-supporting. In marriages that lasted 10 years or longer, the law requires your spouse to become self-supporting as soon as reasonably possible. What is reasonable time depends on the facts of the case. If you are paying spousal support, it is your job to bring the case to court. This is why it is important to join forces with a San Jose divorce lawyer who knows how to deal with this issue.
The first step would be to look at what was done in the case and to review the judgment: what your judgment says about your marital standard of living, whether the court gave your former spouse a Gavron warning, and whether you can modify support according to your judgment terms. Family Code 4330(b) provides that, when making an order for spousal support, the court may advise the payee that he/she should make reasonable efforts to assist in providing for his/her support needs. This is a Gavron warning. I will discuss the Gavron case in a future blog entry. If a Gavron warning was not given, then you should ask the court to do so.
If a vocational exam was not done, it is time to do one. Ask the court to order your former spouse to meet with a vocational counselor who would assess his/her skills and employment opportunities. A vocation exam would come in very handy if your former spouse complains about a disability. Someone who is older or who had an injury, for example, would not lift heavy stuff, but could do clerical work. A vocational counselor would educate the judge about the jobs that your former spouse can do that are consistent with his/her skills, education, prior work history, and current abilities. A vocational counselor would also survey the job market and educate the judge about the jobs that are available to your spouse.
Another common issue that comes up in the Bay Area is that a supported spouse does not speak English well enough to work in a job that is consistent with his/her abilities. A vocational counselor would educate the judge about what your former spouse can and should do right now to learn English and to get a job. While the judge cannot force your former spouse to work or to follow recommendations, the judge can impute income to your former spouse based on evidence of ability and opportunity to work a vocational counselor would present.
Contrary to what you may have heard or read, spousal support is meant to end. An option that spousal support payors may want to look into is a lump-sum buyout. However, there are many nuances that must be taken into account when negotiating a buy-out sum with your former spouse. Whether you have been paying spousal support for 1 year or 10 years, I encourage you to contact a San Jose divorce lawyer to set up a consultation to learn about your options.
Written by Ekaterina Berman, a San Jose divorce and family immigration lawyer. My goal is to provide experienced and caring representation in family law matters to every client.