Non-Modifiable Spousal Support Means Non-Modifiable

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Changing-Spousal-SupportWith all too much frequency a higher wage earner, desperate to get his or her divorce over, commits to pay non-modifiable spousal support as part of the divorce settlement. Once again we have an appellate opinion that holds that paying spouse to that commitment regardless of the circumstances.

Howard and Lydia are both lawyers. They got divorced. As part of the settlement Howard agreed to pay Lydia spousal support. He further agreed that the amount of spousal support that he would pay would never be less than $2,000 per month. Several years later, Howard became completely disabled and sought to modify the spousal support order by invoking the court’s inherent jurisdiction to modify it. His motion is denied, and he remains on the hook for the $2000 per month.

The Appellate Court writes:

Marital settlement agreements incorporated into a dissolution judgment are construed under the statutory rules governing the interpretations of contracts generally.’ ” (In re Marriage of Simundza (2004) 121 Cal.App.4th 1513, 1518 (Simundza). . . .

As has often been restated: ‘The fundamental goal of contractual interpretation is to give effect to the mutual intention of the parties. [Citation.] If contractual language is clear and explicit, it governs. . . .”

Howard argues that the court has the power to modify his support order. We agree that in general courts can and do modify support orders. Here, however, there is an agreement and a stipulated order, both of which provide that spousal support is not modifiable except for the specific circumstances resulting in a reduction of support to $2,000. The court has limited power under these circumstances. “[T]he trial court’s discretion to modify the spousal support order is constrained by the terms of the marital settlement agreement. The court may not simply reevaluate the spousal support award.” (In re Marriage of Aninger (1990) 220 Cal.App.3d 230, 238.)

Folks the take away from all of this is pretty clear. If you sign a deal for non-modifiable spousal support you are going to be held to that deal no matter what.

Please click here to read the Hibbard opinion.

Please be sure to visit www.hardinglaw.com, the website for the law firm of Harding & Associates, for more information on changing spousal support & California Spousal Support law.

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