An order for spousal support is intended to assist your ex-wife or ex-husband after a divorce, to help them financially while they are trying to get back on their feet and become self-supporting while ensuring that their quality of life does not deteriorate drastically post-marriage. Otherwise known as alimony, this kind of support was intended for those who have effectively given up their careers for the sake of raising the family for the duration of the marriage.
But what if your ex-wife, ex-husband, or ex-partner remarries? Or what if, short of getting married, he or she cohabitates with another person to the extent of living like a married couple? Are you still obligated to pay spousal support?
Ideally, this scenario should have been covered by the divorce decree and settlement agreement to the effect that remarriage of either one of the parties will cause a change in circumstances sufficient to warrant a modification of the settlement or support order. If no provision for this eventuality has been provided in the agreement, then the parties can look to what California law provides.
Remarriage and Spousal Support under California Law
Under California law, the remarriage of the person paying alimony has little to no effect on his obligation to pay. On the other hand, spousal support or alimony payments may terminate if the person receiving support gets remarried. This is because there arises a rebuttable presumption of decreased need for support if the supported party remarries or cohabitates with another person.
This is provided for under the California Family Code 4337, which provides that: “Except as otherwise agreed by the parties in writing, the obligation of a party under an order for the support of the other party terminates upon the death of either party or the remarriage of the other party.”
The presumption of decreased need on the basis of remarriage or cohabitation may signify a material change in circumstances that may warrant a modification or termination of the support order – if it can be shown that the income of the cohabitant becomes available to the supported spouse, and their sharing of a household also results in decreased expenses.
On the other hand, if the supporting spouse gets remarried, the income of his or her spouse is not considered in modifying the amount of spousal support that he is obligated to give, and this is true whether the request is for an increase or decrease of the spousal support. Courts have held that this prohibition is “without exception,” and applies to both direct and indirect effects of the income of the cohabiting spouse or nonmarital partner on the obligation of the supporting spouse’s obligation to pay.
Spousal Support and Child Support Obligations
It bears stressing that remarriage of either one or both parties has no effect on the paying spouse’s obligation to pay child support. Child support payments continue regardless of any changes to spousal support orders.
The reverse is not equally true, however. For example, if the person paying spousal support remarries, and they have a new child in the new marriage, then the needs of the new child take precedence over spousal support. In such a case, if the person is having difficulty making the monthly spousal support because of the costs and expenses involved in raising and caring for the new child, then an argument can be made in the court of a change in circumstances that warrant a modification in the order for spousal support – either to reduce the monthly payments or to terminate it altogether. Courts have discretion on whether or not to grant a party’s request in this case, and the outcome will depend on a case-to-case basis.