Bad Parent Can Lose Spousal Support

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An unpublished opinion out of San Diego County provides a thorough refresher on the court’s ability to terminate spousal support for a parent who interferes with the other parent’s custody and visitation rights.

Maureen and Jeffrey got divorced.  As part of the divorce Jeffrey was ordered to pay spousal support.  Putting it mildly, Maureen was less than cooperative when it came to fostering a healthy relationship between Jeffrey and their three children.  Between 2007 and 2009, Maureen “thwarted efforts by each professional appointed by the court who did not side with her position.”  Maureen filed a complaint against the children’s therapist, Dr. Lori Love, successfully removing Dr. Love from the case.  Maureen “refused to cooperate” with the court’s Evidence Code section 730 expert, Dr. Stephen Doyne and joined others in filing a civil suit against him.  “Mother’s actions in the parenting litigation since 2007, can best be described as ‘all out warfare’ in which she has been relentless in her willingness to pursue her goals until she is victorious in having custody returned to her.”  To achieve her goal, Maureen repeatedly made false accusations of Jeffrey’s physical abuse of the children to support her position.  She also repeatedly refused to comply with the terms of both unsupervised and supervised contact with the children.

Maureen also provided financial assistance to the older daughter to allow her to run away from Jeffrey’s house and never told him her whereabouts.  When ordered to do so by the court, Maureen refused.

Jeffrey eventually filed a motion with the court seeking to have his spousal support obligation terminated as a sanction (i.e., punishment) against Maureen for her horrible co-parenting.  This is an exceptional request.  In most cases when there is a request for modification of termination or spousal support it is because there has been some financial change of circumstance, such as one party’s income going up or down, or the need for support being reduced (perhaps because the supported spouse won the lottery, etc.).  In such a case the reviewing court is supposed to consider all of the factors of Family Code Section 4320 (i.e., marital standard of living in light of age and health of the parties, work history, etc, etc.)

The Court of Appeals delivers two lessons in the Miller case.  First this court revisits the California Supreme Court opinions in  Moffat v. Moffat (1980) 27 Cal.3d 645 and In re Marriage of Ciganovich (1976) 61 Cal. App. 3d 289, and reminds us that spousal support can be terminated for interference with co-parenting.  Second it tells us that the 4320 factors do not have to be considered as a basis for the sanction.

We must remember that this is an unpublished opinion.  It cannot be relied upon, or asserted as precedent.  I suspect the court decided not to publish it so that there was not a flood of new cases where a frustrated parent tries to get spousal support terminated.  The Miller opinion does remind us that such a remedy is available, but on a very limited basis.

Please click here to read the original Miller opinion.

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