Where a Spouse is Irresponsible with their Finances a Divorce Court May Terminate Spousal Support Based on a Finding of Self-Sufficiency

After the dissolution of a 15-year marriage Wife’s divorce lawyer petitioned the court for spousal support. Husband was ordered to pay temporary spousal and child support payments. Wife’s divorce lawyer received $2,500 a month in spousal support for a duration of three years. Subsequently, wife was awarded $1,800 a month, for another three-year period. Wife’s divorce attorney later petitioned the court for an increase in spousal support to $3,000 per month. The divorce court found that wife had used her share of community property to invest in high-risk investments and stated that wife had “failed to exercise reasonable diligence in connection with the investments…” Further, the divorce court determined that wife had not attempted to retrain or re-educate herself to obtain a more profitable employment. Also, the divorce court determined that wife would have been self-sufficient had she reasonably managed her assets during the previous time period. However, the divorce court stated that wife should have received $500 for a three-year period during which the court procedures were occurring, but refused to increase her spousal support and instead lowered it.

Ultimately the divorce court determined spousal support should terminate because wife had a property estate, which included $200,000 in equity. Provided wife reasonably invests such equity she would be able to be self-sufficient. The marriage lasted 15 years, support was to be paid for a total of 12 years, and there were no minor children.  Wife was able to seek gainful employment without obstacle. The wife’s divorce attorney filed a timely appeal. On appeal, the court determined there had been three material changes since the divorce court made its original order: (1) the children reached age of majority and left home; (2) the family residence appreciated to double the value; and (3) wife turned her liquid assets unto non-liquid assets of unknown value and limited income. The court found the divorce court had not abused its discretion in determining wife was essentially self-sufficient. The court stated her financial need would not have existed had she not made such imprudent investments and the divorce court rightfully held in favor of husband after finding wife was and should be self-sufficient. The court agreed with husband’s divorce attorney and affirmed the divorce court’s decision.

In re Marriage of McElwee (1988) 197 Cal. App.3d 902