A California court denied a woman's motion to modify a spousal support order in In re Marriage of Khera and Sameer, finding that she had not adequately shown evidence of changed circumstances. The original spousal support order provided for a gradual decrease in support payments until an eventual termination date. The ex-wife (referred to herein as the wife for brevity) sought to delay the date for termination of support payments.
The husband, Sameer Khera, filed for the dissolution of his marriage to Madhu Sameer in October 2003. They had been married since 1986 and had three children. After they agreed on the record to some of the terms of the divorce in May 2007, a court entered a final judgment on the remaining issues in February 2008. Under the agreement and final judgment, the husband was obligated to pay spousal support of $2,650 per month beginning in June 2007. Monthly support would decrease to $1,650 on June 1, 2009, and would terminate entirely on June 1, 2010.
This type of spousal support order, in which the amount decreases over time, is known in California as a Richmond order, after In re Marriage of Richmond, 105 Cal.App.3d 352 (Cal. App. 1st Dist. 1980). Spousal support, under California law, is intended to allow the recipient spouse to maintain the same reasonable standard of living as during the marriage. The purpose of a Richmond order is to allow the recipient spouse time to become financially self-sufficient. The Richmond court held that a court should retain jurisdiction over a spousal support order to ensure that the recipient spouse has the ability to meet their own financial needs by the termination date, and to modify the support order if a spouse can show good cause.
In the present case, the husband earned around $500,000 per year as an executive at the time of the divorce, while the wife was studying to obtain her Masters in Social Work (MSW) degree. The 2010 termination date for support was based on the expectation that she would have completed her degree and obtained employment by then. She moved to set aside the court’s final judgment in February 2009, and in March 2010 she filed an order to show cause for modification of spousal support. She produced evidence showing that she was only earning $9.00 per hour as an associate social worker, and that she could only work about twenty-four hours per week because she was enrolled in a doctoral program in clinical psychology. This level of income, she alleged, did not allow her to maintain the standard of living from the marriage.
The trial court denied her motion to modify, and the appellate court affirmed its ruling. The husband, in his response to her motion, argued that the original order for spousal support, with the June 2010 termination date, assumed that the wife would seek employment after obtaining her MSW. Instead, she enrolled in a Ph.D. program. California law allows modification of spousal support, provided the recipient spouse has made reasonable efforts at achieving financial independence, on the theory that the spouse’s “unrealized expectations” constitute a change in circumstances. In re Marriage of Beust, 23 Cal.App.4th 24, 29 (Cal. App. 2nd Dist. 1994). The court found that the wife had not adequately shown such a change in circumstances.
Thomas Huguenor, a family law attorney certified by the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization, has over 35 years of experience guiding the people of San Diego through the divorce and spousal support process. For a free and confidential consultation, contact us online or at (858) 458-9500.
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