Spousal Support Can Be the Burden of a Lifetime

Spousal Support Can Be the Burden of a Lifetime

Myrtle and Jonathan Chapman were married on July 23, 1960. During their marriage Myrtle was a homemaker and Jonathan provided for the family's upper middle class standard of living. Occasionally, Myrtle held a part time, minimum wage job, but no job lasted longer than three and one half months. Jonathan would make Myrtle quit any outside employment, because he wanted her to remain at home.

In 1979, the parties separated and divorced. Jonathan was ordered to pay Myrtle $625 a month in spousal support. And, because theirs was considered a long-term marriage, Jonathan was ordered to pay the support until Myrtle's remarriage or death. However, this was not the end of their relationship. For the next three years, Jonathan and Myrtle would reunite and separate many times. According to Myrtle, their relationship problems were caused by Jonathan's drinking. When he wasn't drinking, times were good; and when he was drinking, times were bad. They remarried in 1981, but in 1982, they separated permanently, and Jonathan moved in with his new, very rich girlfriend, Deanna Peterson.

Until 1983, Jonathan worked as a vice president with a large insurance company. He made over $40,000 a year, plus bonuses, expenses and the use of a company car (a Mercedes!). Then, he and Deanna ran numerous businesses together, and/or Deanna supported him. She paid his legal expenses, gave him gifts and spending money, and paid his spousal support to Myrtle. On the other hand, Myrtle was not doing so well. She was unable to earn a living because she had major back problems , arthritis, a thyroid condition, and was going through menopause. She lived on a temporary stipend of $280 a month from state disability insurance, and $400 temporary spousal support from Jonathan. According to Myrtle (and Jonathan agreed was reasonable), she needed $1,432 a month to live. But to make ends meet, she borrowed about $10,000 from her mother, and an additional $10,000 from a friend to purchase the trailer she lived in.

During their second divorce proceedings, Myrtle asked the court to award her spousal support based on both their first AND second marriages (in other words, a long-term marriage), so she could be awarded spousal support until she remarried or died. Jonathan requested that the spousal support award be based solely on their second marriage, (where they were actually together as husband and wife a total of three and one half months!) because his original obligation to support her ended when she remarried – even if it was to him. The trial court agreed with Jonathan, and Myrtle appealed.

In California, the law states that spousal support is based on the needs of the party requesting it and ability of the supporting party to provide it. The duration of the support is based on accomplishing substantial justice for the parties. In other words, where spousal support is to be awarded, for a short marriage, it will probably be for a short period of time, and for a long marriage, it will probably be longer. It may even be for the lifetime or remarriage of the party requesting support - if that party can show he/she can never earn an income sufficient enough to provide for his/her needs.

Here the Appellate Court sided with Myrtle, reasoning that to prevent providing support for the possible lifetime of a former spouse, all one would have to do is file for divorce, persuade the other party to remarry him or her, and then file for divorce again after a short marriage, thus shortening the duration of the other party's support.

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