Does Wife's Separate Estate Affect Alimony ?

In re Marriage of McNaughton (1983) 145 Cal. App. 3d 845 [194 Cal. Rptr. 176] the husband claimed the wife's separate estate was sufficient for her expenses, relying on Dallman v. Dallman (1959) 170 Cal. App. 2d 729 [339 P.2d 636]. Said the court in McNaughton: "The [Dallman] court, in reviewing a spousal support order of $ 750 a month, stated, 'the mere fact that a party has a separate estate will not prevent the court's awarding him or her alimony. It is only when such a party has a separate estate sufficient for his or her proper support that the court is denied the power to make such an award.' ( Id., at p. 734.) Whether an estate is sufficient for one's proper support is a fact question for the trial court." ( McNaughton, supra, 145 Cal. App. 3d at p. 850, original italics.) The emphasis in this excerpt is on the needs of the party--what is necessary for one's proper support--not on whether the estate is capable of generating that amount. In any event the parties in McNaughton disputed the historical facts, in particular the amount of annual gross income actually generated by wife's separate property. As well, unlike in the present case, McNaughton involved a spousal support order entered just after the community assets had been divided. The parties' circumstances were in a state of flux and wife had not had an opportunity to put her own investment scheme in place. (McNaughton, supra, 145 Cal. App. 3d at pp. 852-853.) The trial court has broad discretion to decide whether to modify a spousal support order based on a material change of circumstances. In exercising this discretion, the court considers the same criteria set forth in section 4320 as it considered when making the initial order and any subsequent modification order. (In re Marriage of Stephenson (1995) 39 Cal. App. 4th 71, 76-78 [46 Cal. Rptr. 2d 8].) These factors include the ability of the supporting party to pay; the needs of each party based on the standard of living established during the marriage; the obligations and assets of each party; and the balance of hardships to each party. ( 4320, subds. (c)-(e), (j).) As well, section 4322 provides that in original or modification proceedings, "where there are no children, and a party has or acquires a separate estate, including income from employment, sufficient for the party's proper support, no support shall be ordered or continued against the other party." (Italics added.) Denial of continued support is thus mandatory if the sufficiency threshold is met, irrespective of circumstances the court would otherwise consider under section 4320.