The Gavron Case and Warning

Mildred and Bernard Gavron were married for 25 years when they divorced. At the time, Bernard was a dentist and Mildred was a 57-year-old homemaker with limited marketable skills. The divorce court awarded Mildred spousal support of $1100.00 per month to be paid for by Bernard. Because the court retained jurisdiction over the issue of spousal support, no termination date for Bernard’s support obligation was determined.

After six years of paying spousal support, Bernard returned to court and asked that his support obligation be lessened to $550.00. Bernard told the court that his income had decreased and he could not afford to pay Mildred. Further, Mildred was now working or able to work, and therefore, he should not have to support her. Mildred argued that she had had minimum wage jobs, but due to her medical conditions (such as arthritis) and taking care of her 87-year-old mother, she could not support herself without her $1100 per month spousal support. The trial court decided for Bernard and ordered spousal support payments to continue at the same amount for one more year, and then completely cease. The trial court concluded that Mildred had an obligation to make herself self-sufficient, and by not doing so, she now had the burden of proving to the court that she needed the spousal support.

Mildred appealed.

The Appellate Court disagreed with the trial court, but only because Mildred should have been given notice that her support could end if she did not try to become self-supporting. The court stated, “[without a]…reasonable advance warning that after an appropriate period of time the supported spouse was expected to become self-sufficient or face onerous legal and financial consequences…” failure of the supported spouse to become self-supporting cannot become circumstance warranting a change in support. Thus, notification must be given to the spouse receiving support that it could be terminated if that spouse did not try to become self-sufficient.

The California state legislature made that ruling into a codified law shortly thereafter. Section 4330 of the California Family Code states: “When making an order for spousal support, the court may advise the recipient of support that he or she should make reasonable efforts to assist in providing for his or her support needs, taking into account the particular circumstances considered by the court pursuant to [Family Code] section 4320, unless, in the case of a marriage of long duration as provided for in [Family Code] section 4336, the court decides this warning is inadvisable.”

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