With Two Lefts, There's One Right and One Wrong

Andrea and Andrew Left married in June of 2001. Andrew was a stock trader. Andrea had been an attorney before their marriage, but stopped working permanently after she became pregnant with the first of their two children. In February of 2006, after four and one-half years of marriage, Andrea filed for divorce. She requested and began receiving temporary child support in the amount of $14,590 per month and spousal support in the amount of $32,547 per month. On June 30, 2008, a Judgment of Dissolution Status Only was entered. Andrea and Andrew were both free to marry others, while the other issues from their marriage (such as child custody, and property distribution) remained unresolved.

In December of 2008, Andrea became engaged to Todd. They decided to marry on May 2, 2009, figuring the other issues from Andrea's former marriage would be resolved beforehand. However, the issues were not resolved, and Andrea decided she and Todd would have a "commitment ceremony" instead. They booked the venue, sent out invitations, hired the Rabbi, and told everyone they were getting married, but they did not get a marriage license. About a month after the "commitment ceremony", Andrea told Andrew that she did not actually get married. Andrew filed a request with the court to terminate his spousal support obligation based on Andrea's marriage to Todd. In the alternative, Andrew requested the court terminate his support because he had been paying her support for over three years already – fifty percent longer than the one-half the length of their marriage! And lastly, that the support should be lowered if not eliminated because he had financial reversals and could no longer afford the amount he was paying her.

The next day Andrea filed a writ of execution to get her back-spousal support from Andrew in the amount of $247,000. Six weeks later, she filed a contempt order against Andrew for failure to pay the support.

Numerous trial court hearings were held, and on April 10, 2010, the trial court found Andrew guilty of nine of the ten counts of contempt. Regarding Andrew's request to terminate his spousal support, on May 5, 2010, Andrew filed an Income and Expense Declaration (a form used in family law matters that shows a person's income and expenses currently and within the previous 12 months). It showed that he had income losses of $2,242,576, an average of $187,000 per month. Based on the form, the court lowered Andrew's spousal support to $20,000 per month – but only from the date of the form, not from the original request date.

Andrew appealed.

The Appellate Court agreed with the trial court. A commitment ceremony is not a marriage, because it did not meet the state's requirements for a legal marriage – including the issuance of a marriage license. Because Andrea did not legally remarry, Andrew was still obligated to pay his spousal support.

Regarding the date used to determine the start date for the new support obligation amount, the court needed relevant documentation to make a decision. Even if Andrew could argue that he did not need to fill out the income and expense form on earlier occasions, the form was clearly needed at the time of his request. Therefore, the court was justified in using the form in determining a change in support only from the date it was provided.

Lastly, the Appellate Court agreed with the trial court that the duration for Andrea's support was valid. California law provides a guideline that spousal support should be provided for one-half of the length of a short-term marriage. However, the term is a guideline, and not a hard-and-fast rule, so support could be ordered for a longer period of time.

Sometimes, it's the forms that make all the difference in the world!

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