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Where One Spouse Can Afford to Continue a Standard of Living Consistent with that Enjoyed During the Marriages, that Spouse May be Required to Pay Support if it Would Not Significantly Lower than the Payor Spouse’s Standard of Living

A divorce court ordered husband to pay wife $500 per month for a five-year term, after which husband was to pay $1 per month for a subsequent five-year term. Spousal support would automatically terminate after the end of the ten-year term. Both husband’s divorce lawyer and wife’s divorce lawyer appealed.

Wife’s divorce lawyer argued that the divorce court had abused its discretion in reducing the $500 per month award to $1 per month, followed by an automatic termination. The divorce court found that the husband had an after-tax disposable annual income of $22,472 and the wife had a disposable annual income of $9,300. Although wife possessed a teaching degree, her chance of reemployment as a teacher was “meager,” and she was training to become a secretary, which could provide an estimated annual salary of $6,000. The court agreed with wife’s divorce attorney and found that the divorce court’s spousal support order was an abuse of discretion because it allowed the husband’s ongoing standard of living to remain much higher than wife’s. Further, the appellate court explained that husband could afford to pay his wife more than $500 per month and still have sufficient funds for a comfortable life style.

Additionally, the court found that while the automatic reduction from $500 to $1 was speculative because it rested on the assumption that wife would be able to earn income as a secretary, it was not an abuse of discretion by the divorce court. Furthermore, the Court of Appeal agreed with wife’s divorce attorney and found that the automatic termination of the spousal support and relinquishing of the divorce court’s jurisdiction after the ten-year period would expire was an abuse of discretion by the divorce court. The court explained there was no way of knowing what the parties respective financial positions would be ten-years later because the wife had health problems and a speculative opportunity at earning her own income.

Wife’s divorce lawyer also appealed the divorce court’s decision to award her a portion of husband’s retirement allowance and not the full amount she would have been entitled to as a “surviving spouse”. The divorce court ruled that the wife’s “contingent interest as surviving spouse” had no value. The divorce court found that an expectancy of receiving an allowance as the spouse of a judge did not apply to ex-spouses of judges. Ex-spouses are not entitled to the same community assets as spouses, because that would force a judge to pay for an “expectancy, which might never mature.”

The divorce court adopted a formula that determined wife’s share of husband’s retirement based on the judicial position husband held at the time of retirement. Husband’s divorce lawyer appealed and argued the base figure should be dependent on husband’s position at the time of the divorce. The court found that the divorce court had the discretion to select any reasonable method in computing the retirement benefits. However, the divorce court should have reserved jurisdiction to consider how disability retirements should be divided, when and if they became payable to husband.

In re Marriage of Andreen (1978) 76 Cal. App. 3d 667