In Determining A Permanent Spousal Support Award, A Divorce Court Must Exercise Its Independent Judgment And Not Simply Comply With The Guideline Formula.

A court found that a trial judge incorrectly awarded a former spouse a spousal support order based on a “DissoMaster” guideline formula.

After the dissolution of a 19-year marriage, wife received physical custody of their two minor children. Husband agreed to pay child support until the children became 18, however no spousal support was ordered. Six years after the dissolution proceeding, wife’s divorce attorney moved for spousal support, additional child support, and clarification of the visitation rights. Wife requested additional support based on a “disparity” between her former husband’s and her income and on the basis that her now adult child remained living with her. The divorce court found that wife had an average gross income of $2,133, per month, which fell to $1,950. Husband had gross income of approximately $5,857 per month, which increased to $6,332.

The divorce court found that the guideline temporary spousal support formula would have generated $775 of spousal support per month, however the divorce court simply ordered a support amount of $500 per month without any explanation. The court explained that a simple disparity between husband and wife’s income is an insufficient basis to require spousal support payments. The court stated that the divorce court may not simply turn to the “DissoMaster temporary support guideline” in determining spousal support but instead a ground-up examination of the need for an appropriate amount of permanent spousal support was required. Thus, the court determined that the divorce court impermissibly relied on the DissoMaster guideline formula. Further, the court determined there had been material omissions by wife’s divorce attorney regarding her financial condition. The court explained that the trial judge should have denied wife’s request if it only sought to return her living situation to the lifestyle she enjoyed during marriage. Thus, because the divorce court did not exercise independent judgment over the spousal support order the court reversed the award order.

In re Marriage of Zywiciel, 83 Cal. App. 4th 1078 (2000)