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In Determining a Permanent Spousal Support Award, a Divorce Court Must Exercise its Independent Judgment and Not Simply Comply With the Support Guideline Formula

After a 19-year Orange County marriage, the parties divorce and wife received physical child 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 divorce, wife’s Orange County divorce attorney moved for spousal support in the Superior Court, additional child support, and clarification of the visitation rights. Wife’s Orange County divorce lawyer 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 Orange County 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 divorce court explained that a simple disparity between husband and wife’s income is an insufficient basis to require spousal support payments. The appellate 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 Orange County divorce attorney regarding her financial condition. The Court explained that the divorce court 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 of Appeal agreed with Husband’s divorce lawyer and reversed the order.

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