Only Evidence After The Initial Divorce Judgment Is To Be Considered In Determining A “Material Change In Circumstances” In Regards To Spousal Support

In considering an extension or change of spousal support, the divorce court may only look to evidence which occurred after the divorce and not reanalyze facts already considered in the divorce judgment.

The parties were married 28 years and at the time of Orange County divorce (1980), the divorce court ordered the husband to pay wife $850 per month in spousal support for the first year and $650 per month for an additional year.  After that, the divorce court retained jurisdiction to make order as needed.  The divorce court found wife suffered from emotional issues which prevented her from working at her previous job as a licensed marriage and family counselor.  However, the court reasoned wife would be able to find work in other fields in order to support herself eventually, thus decreasing her need for support after 2 years.

After the initial two years passed, wife’s divorce lawyer filed a motion in Orange County Superior Court to increase wife’s support to $1,2000 per month citing an inability to work due to severe depression and anxiety.  The divorce court extended the spousal support, ordering husband to pay $400 per month for an additional two years and awarded wife $1,000 in attorney fees.  The divorce court reasoned that the expectations of wife becoming employed and not been met which constituted a change in circumstances.  Both parties were unhappy with this result and appealed.

The Court of Appeal in Orange County examined the standard for a change to a spousal support order which requires a “material change in circumstances.”  Wife’s divorce lawyer argued the court should have awarded her more support due to, among other things, the length of the marriage, husband’s salary and wife’s age.  However, the Court of Appeal in Orange County determined these factors to be irrelevant as the only facts the divorce court should look to is the change in circumstances which occurred after the final divorce judgment.

Wife’s divorce lawyer argued the court abused its discretion by failing to consider wife’s inability to work in any capacity.  However, the Court of Appeal in Orange County asserted the divorce did consider wife’s inability to work in awarding her two more years of support.  The court decreased the amount, based on wife’s psychiatrist’s testimony, which indicated wife would be able to overcome her emotional problems or find other work within in two years.

Finally, the Court of Appeal in Orange County analyzed the divorce court actions for an abuse of discretion.  The Court of Appeal determined there was no clear abuse of discretion that would justify a reversal.

In re Marriage of Schaffer (1999) 69 Cal. App. 4th 803