Family Law- Parties’ prior understanding expressed in Marital Settlement Agreement or Stipulated Judgment must be considered when Modifying Spousal Support.
New Case: In re Marriage of T.C.
Where a Marital Settlement Agreement concerning Spousal Support reflects the parties’ understanding that the wife’s income includes a pattern of increases, future increases consistent with this pattern would not amount to changed circumstances sufficient to justify a modification of spousal support, but a substantial increase in earnings (falling outside the normal pattern of increases) constitutes a material change in circumstances so that a court could consider modification of the Spousal Support Order.
The trial court abused its discretion by failing to consider the parties’ prior understanding in modifying Spousal Support. The order was reversed and the matter was remanded to the California Superior Court to modify the Spousal Support consistent with the parties’ reasonable expectations and understanding when entering into the Marital Settlement Agreement.
To modify Spousal Support, first, the court must find a material change of circumstances since the last order. In doing so, the court considers all factors under Family Code sec. 4320 including those affecting the parties’ needs and ability to pay. An increase in the supporting spouse’s ability to pay may constitute a change in circumstances. When Spousal Support is ordered as part of a marital settlement agreement or stipulated judgment, the court’s changed-circumstances analysis must consider the intent and reasonable expectations of the parties expressed in the agreement. These agreements are generally interpreted under the same rules governing contract interpretation, which is to give effect to the mutual intention of the parties.
To Discuss a Modification of Spousal Support with family law lawyer Gregory W. Cabo, call (714) 771-2227.