If a Spouse Fails to or Delays in Seeking Gainful Employment, a Divorce Court May Deny a Request to Increase a Spousal Support Order

In a divorce case filed in Orange County, the judgment required a husband to pay his wife spousal support of $1,200 per month for a five-year period. The initial judgment did not contain a provision reserving jurisdiction over spousal support. Thereafter, wife’s Orange County divorce attorney filed a motion to modify child and spousal support. In response husband’s Orange County divorce lawyer, filed a request for affirmative relief, claiming that the divorce court’s jurisdiction over spousal support had terminated and requested that wife be required to pay support for the child living with husband. The court issued an order that modified the judgment to reserve jurisdiction over spousal support but determined not to award wife a monetary amount in spousal support. Additionally, the divorce court denied father’s Orange County divorce lawyer’s request for child support and instead increased husband’s child support obligation to $500 per month for the child living with wife. The wife’s Orange County divorce lawyer filed a timely appeal.

The Court of Appeal determined the Orange County divorce court had not abused its discretion by modifying the judgment to include a reservation of jurisdiction over spousal support. The Court explained the divorce court’s failure to include a provision, retaining jurisdiction was a clear clerical error. Additionally, the Court of Appeal reviewed the trial transcript and found that the judge directly answered the attorney’s questions stating that the Orange Couty divorce court was retaining jurisdiction. Thus, the court’s decision to retain jurisdiction was not an abuse of discretion by the divorce court.

The Court further considered whether denying wife a monetary amount of spousal support was an abuse of discretion. At the time of the initial order wife was unemployed and remained unemployed at the time of the request for modification, although she attempted to pursue certain employment throughout Orange County. The Court explained that wife would have to show a change in circumstances to receive continuing support.  At the time of entry of judgment she had been unemployed.  The divorce court had expected her to be able to support herself within five years. At the modification hearing, the wife had been unable to support herself.  The Court stated that a divorce court may deny an application for increased spousal support on the basis that wife had done little to prepare herself for gainful employment while husband supported her. The Court of Appeal agreed with husband’s Orange County divorce lawyer and determined the divorce court did not abuse its discretion by denying wife modification of spousal support because she had delayed seeking employment.

In re Marriage of Sheridan (1983) 140 Cal.App.Ed 742