The Orange County Court of Appeal Ruled that a Divorce Court has no Jurisdiction to Modify a Spousal Support Award’s Duration if There is Express Language of Termination

Donald and Pamela dissolved their 14-year marriage in an Orange County divorce proceeding in December 1978. A few months later they entered into a written stipulation dividing their community property, awarding spousal support, and custody. The stipulation and order were virtually identical in content. The stipulation read: “Husband shall pay to wife as and for spousal support the sum of $1,900 per month payable on the 1st day of each month, commencing April 1, 1979 and each continuing thereafter on the 1st day of each and every month for a period of seven years, unless sooner terminated by the death or remarriage of wife, or the death of husband. Spousal support shall be modifiable as to amount only by further order of the court upon a showing of a change in circumstances, but in no event shall husband be obligated to pay spousal support to wife after April 30, 1986.”

In 1982, Pamela’s Orange County divorce lawyer sought and obtained an increase in spousal support to $2,000 per month. On February 28, 1986, her Orange County divorce lawyer filed another request for modification, this time seeking an extension of Donald’s obligation. After a hearing on May 30, 1986, the Orange County divorce court granted Pamela’s Orange County divorce attorney’s request and ordered that the support continue at $2,000 per month until Respondent’s death, marriage, or further order of the court, and Donald’s Orange County divorce lawyer appealed.

The California Supreme Court has interpreted Civil Code Section 4811(b) as “permitting the parties to agree that the provisions of any agreement or order for the support of either party shall not be subject to subsequent modification or revocation by court order.” In re Marriage of Vomacka (1984) 36 Cal.3d 459, 462-463. Here, both the stipulation and the order stated, unequivocally, spousal support was not to be paid after April 30, 1986. In In re Foreman, the Court found that a Judgement may contain language from which a reservation of jurisdiction may be implied, i.e., the court-ordered support would ‘continue until further order of the court’ or ‘until modified by a court of competent jurisdiction.’ The Foreman Court’s refusal to extend the duration of support was premised on the absence of such language. This Court’s refusal is based upon the express language of termination in the parties’ stipulation: The clause, “in no event shall Respondent be obligated to pay spousal support to Respondent after April 30, 1986,” is clear and unequivocal.

This Court of Appeal concluded that the Orange County divorce court lacked jurisdiction to extend spousal support beyond April 30, 1986.

In re Marriage of Zlatnik, 197 Cal.App.3d 1284 (1988).