Important Cases and Code Sections Relating To Spousal Support

Family Code Section 4320 

This is the main code section governing spousal support in California.  Anybody who has to pay spousal support should be study and be familiar with this section.

STATUTE PROVIDES: “In ordering spousal support under this part, the court shall consider all of the following circumstances:

(a) The extent to which the earning capacity of each party is sufficient to maintain the standard of living established during the marriage, taking into account all of the following:

(1) The marketable skills of the supported party; the job market for those skills; the time and expenses required for the supported party to acquire the appropriate education or training to develop those skills; and the possible need for retraining or education to acquire other, more marketable skills or employment.

(2) The extent to which the supported party’s present or future earning capacity is impaired by periods of unemployment that were incurred during the marriage to permit the supported party to devote time to domestic duties.

(b) The extent to which the supported party contributed to the attainment of an education, training, a career position, or a license by the supporting party.

(c) The ability of the supporting party to pay spousal support, taking into account the supporting party’s earning capacity, earned and unearned income, assets, and standard of living.

(d) The needs of each party based on the standard of living established during the marriage.

(e) The obligations and assets, including the separate property, of each party.

(f) The duration of the marriage.

(g) The ability of the supported party to engage in gainful employment without unduly interfering with the interests of dependent children in the custody of the party.

(h) The age and health of the parties.

(i) Documented evidence of any history of domestic violence, as defined in Section 6211, between the parties, including, but not limited to, consideration of emotional distress resulting from domestic violence perpetrated against the supported party by the supporting party, and consideration of any history of violence against the supporting party by the supported party.

(j) The immediate and specific tax consequences to each party.

(k) The balance of the hardships to each party.

(l) The goal that the supported party shall be self-supporting within a reasonable period of time. Except in the case of a marriage of long duration as described in [Fam. Code §4336], a ‘reasonable period of time’ for purposes of this section generally shall be one-half the length of the marriage. However, nothing in this section is intended to limit the court’s discretion to order support for a greater or lesser length of time, based on any of the other factors listed in this section, Section 4336, and the circumstances of the parties.

(m) The criminal conviction of an abusive spouse shall be considered in making a reduction or elimination of a spousal support award in accordance with [Fam. Code §4325.

(n) Any other factors the court determines are just and equitable.” (Fam. Code §4320.)



 In re Marriage of Gavron (1988) 203 Cal.App.3d 705, 250 Cal.Rptr. 148, provision is as follows: “When making an order for spousal support, the court may advise the recipient of support that he or she should make reasonable efforts to assist in providing for his or her support needs, taking into account the particular circumstances considered by the court pursuant to [Fam. Code §4320], unless, in the case of a marriage of long duration as provided for in [Fam. Code §4336], the court decides this warning is inadvisable.’” (Fam. Code §4330 (b).)


Spousal support termination date properly set 3 years after original order after lengthy marriage due to changed circumstances.  .  In re Marriage of Shaughnessy (2006) 139 Cal.App.4th 1225, 43 Cal.Rptr.3d 642

The standard rule that modifications in support orders may only be granted if there has been a material change of circumstances since the last order was not designed to circumvent the goal that supported spouses become self-supporting within a reasonable period of timeIn this case the initial spousal support award was premised, in part, on an expectation that Wife would obtain retraining in order to increase her income and become self-supporting. However, by three years later Wife had done little, if anything, to obtain retraining to increase her income, and had not otherwise been diligent in attempting to become self-supporting. W’s “failure to diligently pursue retraining in order to attempt to become self-supporting constituted a change in circumstances justifying a modification of the spousal support order.”


Wife’s failure to use five years since dissolution to become employed was grounds for refusing to increase support after it stepped down to a reservation.  In re Marriage of Sheridan (1983) 140 Cal.App.3d 742, 189 Cal.Rptr. 622.  This case was the harbinger  of the change which we are seeing in the attitude of appellate courts towards supported spouses who refuse to act in good faith in seeking employment.

     In re Marriage of Terry (2000) 80 Cal.App.4th 921, Wife can be forced to change her investment strategy to provide greater income for her to be self-supporting.

     In re Marriage of Berland (1989) 215 Cal.App.3d 1257, 264 Cal.Rptr. 210, Wife’s poor judgment in failing to diligently pursue remunerative employment justified reduced support award for short period followed by reservation.

     In re Marriage of McElwee (1988) 197 Cal.App.3d 902, 243 Cal.Rptr. 179, Failure of supported spouse to invest prudently own substantial assets may be grounds for termination of spousal support.

     In re Marriage of Hoffmeister [Hoffmeister II (1987) 191 Cal.App.3d 351, 236 Cal.Rptr. 543, Standard of living of parties during marriage controls, not standard of living of paying spouse at time of modification proceeding].

     Webb v. Webb (1970) 12 Cal.App.3d 259, 90 Cal.Rptr. 565, card ß{SpSu 026.01}. Court reversed for failure to terminate or decrease alimony when need no longer existed.


In re Marriage of Schaffer [Schaffer II] (1999) 69 Cal.App.4th 801, 81 Cal.Rptr.2d 797.  No abuse of discretion for judge to consider W’s actions and long term history of spousal support extensions in reducing spousal support to zero at modification hearing.

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