Spousal support orders are intended to support a non-earning or low-earning spouse for a certain amount of time, depending on the length of the marriage. Divorcing parties are welcome to agree to the length of time support will be provided. If they do not agree ahead of time how long a certain support amount will last, then the supporting spouse may want to request the court terminate support after a certain amount of time. Here are ways in which the court might terminate support.
First, as stated above, a party may request that the court make a spousal support order for a fixed duration so that it may terminate at the end of the specified period. The court may also order that any jurisdiction (or power of the court to order additional support) may be terminated after the specified period. The court may also order an obligation to pay spousal support for a contingent period of time. This means that support would terminate on the happening of the specified contingency or event.
Unless the parties have otherwise agreed in writing, a court-ordered spousal support obligation will terminate upon either party’s death or the supported party’s remarriage. This termination of support will happen automatically, there is no need to go back into court for an order terminating support, unless, of course, the parties agree otherwise in writing. Once either party dies or the party being supported gets remarried, the obligation to support is over. However, if at the time of death or remarriage the supporting spouse owes back-due support (or arrears), that amount is still due going forward.
What happens if the supported spouse doesn’t remarry, but moves in with a new partner, or simply registers as a “domestic partner” with someone else? First, non-marital cohabitation is not the same as remarriage, and will not automatically terminate support. The parties may agree in writing to terminate support when or if either party moves in with a new partner. Moving in with a new partner, however, may be a reason for a modification of the support amount. For example, if a supported party moves in with a new partner and that new partner contributes to the supported party’s living expenses, that will be factored into the supporting party’s request to reduce support.
Because a domestic partnership arguably should be regarded the same as remarriage under California Family Code section 4337, it thus should also be deemed an event terminating spousal support, unless the parties have otherwise agreed in writing.
Can one resurrect spousal support if the remarriage fails? Normally, once a spousal support order terminates due to the supporting party’s remarriage, it cannot then be revived if the remarriage later fails. If the parties to the support order themselves get remarried, their support order terminates. If they decide to get divorced again and seek support, a new support order will be made based on the second or present marriage. However, in limited circumstances, the court may consider the collective length of the former and present marriages when again deciding the amount and duration of spousal support.
Last, support can always be terminated if the supported party is no longer in need, or a detrimental change in the supporting party’s ability to pay outweighs the other’s need for support. This termination would be made via a “modification” based on changed circumstances. Further, if the supported party was aware of an expectation that he or she should become self-supporting, support might be terminated on the basis of the his or her failure to make good faith efforts toward self-sufficiency within a reasonable period of time. If no reasonable efforts are made, the court is more inclined to modify support to zero, or terminate support altogether. Again, spousal support is intended to help a low or non-earning spouse until that spouse can get themselves to a same or similar level of financial security experienced while married. This does not mean, however, that they don’t have to make efforts themselves to become self-supporting.