In California, spousal support is not automatically ordered in every divorce case. Spousal support is a highly contentious topic, and often, the person ordered to pay disagrees with the judgment. While it can be very frustrating to pay spousal support, especially if you are instructed to pay for an extended period or even permanently, you are legally required to adhere to your order. If you believe your spousal support order is unfair or incorrect, you may have options for disputing or changing the order.
How to Dispute a Spousal Support Order
If you believe that your spousal support order is unfair or excessive, your first step should be to contact an experienced Orange County attorney like ours at Burch Shepard Family Law Group. A skilled lawyer familiar with handling spousal support disputes can help you uncover your legal options and guide you through the process of contesting or appealing your spousal support order.
Potential reasons to dispute a spousal support order include:
- You believe that the order is unfair or excessive
- Legal mistakes were made during your case that affected your judgment
- Important new information has come to light that affects your case
- Your or your former spouse's circumstances have changed
Below we review three options for disputing a spousal support order. Before you decide how best to move forward with your case, you should consult with a skilled lawyer to identify the best path for your situation. In addition to the three options reviewed below, there may be other options available to you.
Appealing the Court's Decision
Many people are surprised to learn that you can appeal spousal support orders. Appeals are handled through the California appellate courts. It is important to remember that appeals are not the same thing as getting a new trial. You will not have the opportunity to make your case before the appeals judge, nor will you have the option to present new evidence or information.
The appeals process is reserved for cases in which it is believed that a legal mistake has occurred in the original case and when that mistake has directly impacted the case's outcome. You cannot file an appeal simply because you disagree with the court's original judgment. The appeals court will only overturn or reverse a judgment if they believe a substantive legal mistake was made.
To learn more about appealing a family court decision, such as spousal support orders, review our blog post here.
Filing a Motion for Reconsideration
An alternative to the appeals court is to file a motion of reconsideration. A motion for reconsideration is used when there are new facts or circumstances that affect a case. Similarly, a motion for reconsideration can also be filed when a new law takes effect that has a direct impact on your case. There is a strict window within which a motion for reconsideration can be filed. You must file your motion within ten days of being served with the written notice of entry or the original order you want to be reconsidered.
Other alternatives to the appeals process include motions to vacate or set aside a judgment, application for renewal, and motions for a new trial. To learn more about these alternatives, review the California Court's website here.
Requesting a Modification
If you have experienced a change in circumstances that affects your spousal support order, you may be able to request a change or modification to the order. You may even be able to ask that the order end. There are a wide range of circumstances that can render a spousal support order inadequate or unnecessary, and you should speak with your attorney to find out if you have grounds for filing a modification.
Examples of circumstances that may warrant a modification or end to a spousal support order include:
- A significant change in income
- A change in employment
- Retirement or disability
- The person receiving the support no longer needs it
In some cases, support is contingent upon the person receiving the support's effort to become self-sufficient, such as through finding employment. According to the courts, if the person receiving alimony is not making a good faith effort to obtain employment, the person required to pay support may request that spousal support be ended.
Not all changes or modifications of support orders require going to court. If both parties agree on the change, the modification can be negotiated outside of court. However, it's important to remember that for the new order to be recognized and legally valid, it has to be filed with the court and signed/approved by a judge. Until that happens, the old court order remains in effect.
Before requesting a modification or change to a spousal support order, you should speak with our law firm. Working with a lawyer can help ensure that all paperwork is filed correctly and can help increase your chances of receiving a favorable outcome to your request.