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.