Changing Spousal Support In California Case Law
The general rules of law and the standards of appellate review for an order modifying spousal support are well settled: "Modification of spousal support . . . requires a material change of circumstances since the last order.
Change of circumstances means a reduction or increase in the supporting spouse's ability to pay and/or an increase or decrease in the supported spouse's needs.
It includes all factors affecting need and the ability to pay.
Appellate review of orders modifying spousal support is governed by an abuse of discretion standard, and such an abuse occurs when a court modifies a support order without substantial evidence of a material change of circumstances." (In re Marriage of McCann (1996) 41 Cal. App. 4th 978, 982-983 48 Cal. Rptr. 2d 864;)
In re Marriage of Stephenson (1995) 39 Cal. App. 4th 71, 76-78 46 Cal. Rptr. 2d 8;
In re Marriage of Meegan (1992) 11 Cal. App. 4th 156, 161 13 Cal. Rptr. 2d 799;
In re Marriage of Aufmuth (1979) 89 Cal. App. 3d 446, 458 152 Cal. Rptr. 668, disapproved on other grounds, In re Marriage of Lucas (1980) 27 Cal. 3d 808, 815 166 Cal. Rptr. 853, 614 P.2d 285.)
The court in In re Marriage of Aufmuth, supra, 89 Cal. App. 3d 446, emphasized the importance of judicial restraint in reviewing awards of spousal support, as follows:
"In fixing the amount of spousal support to be awarded upon dissolution of marriage, broad discretion is vested in the trial court, 'and thus an appellate court must act with cautious judicial restraint, even though the particular award might appear on appeal to be modest or generous under the particular circumstances.'
However, the discretion of the trial court is not unlimited. 'It must be exercised along legal lines, taking into consideration the circumstances of the parties, their necessities, and the financial ability of the obligor spouse.'
An abuse of discretion will be perceived if, after calm and careful review of the entire record, it can fairly be said that no judge would reasonably make the same order under the same circumstances." (Id. at p. 458, italics added.)
When a party seeking modification of a spousal support invokes section 4322, however, the real issue is whether there has been a material change of circumstances such that the supported spouse's "separate estate" has become "sufficient for his or her proper support," and he or she is, thus, no longer entitled to any support (ibid.).
This is a question of fact for the trial court (In re Marriage of McNaughton (1983) 145 Cal. App. 3d 845, 850-851 194 Cal. Rptr. 176), subject to review only to determine if there was substantial evidence to support the trial court's finding on the issue (ibid.; see also In re Marriage of McCann, supra, 41 Cal. App. 4th at pp. 982-983).
In conducting such review, we must accept as true all evidence supporting the trial judge's findings, resolve all conflicts in the evidence in favor of the prevailing party, and indulge in all legitimate and reasonable inferences to uphold the judgment. (See In re Marriage of Rising (1999) 76 Cal. App. 4th 472, 474, fn. 2 90 Cal. Rptr. 2d 380, citing In re Marriage of Stephenson, supra, 39 Cal. App. 4th at p. 82, fn. 5; In re Marriage of Meegan, supra, 11 Cal. App. 4th at p. 161.)