When Spousal Support Agreements Cannot be Changed

Wife [W] and Husband [H] married on January 31, 2004.  They separated on February 1, 2013, and their divorce became final on December 2, 2013.  W and H did not go through the divorce process with the help of attorneys, but filed the paperwork themselves in San Bernardino County Family Court with the help of a court facilitator.

W and H agreed that H would keep their community property house, and he would reimburse W her one-half interest by paying her spousal support in the amount of $1,000 per month, until her interest in the house had been paid in full.  For this agreement to be legal, the facilitator told them, they must file form number SB-12035 Agreement for Judgment – No Children with the court.  So, they did so.  The spousal support section of the form was checked with H to pay W support from October 1, 2013 until August 1, 2017.  There was a section of the form that was not checked requesting that spousal support be terminated upon the death of either party or the remarriage of the supported party, or further order of the court.

SB-12035 Agreement for Judgment – No Children is a local form, used in the San Bernardino Family Court system that allows parties to write out the terms of their divorce via a form.  This form covers most areas involved in family law, from spousal support, real property, personal property, pensions, etc.  The use of the local form for divorce proceedings instead of the state-judicial forms is legal, as long as the local form does not conflict with the state forms.

W remarried in November of 2014.

In March of 2017, H filed a post judgment request for reimbursement for spousal support payments he made to W after her remarriage in 2014.  A hearing was held in San Bernardino Family Court in August of 2017.  W testified that she believed the support payments were in lieu of the money H owed her for interest in their community-property home, and therefore was not subject to end if she remarried.  The trial court agreed with H citing section 4337 of the Family Code stating that there must be a writing specifically stating that spousal support would not be modifiable nor end if the supported spouse remarried.  The court found that there was nothing in their form SB-12035 form that showed spousal support was to continue if W remarried.  H was awarded his $27,000.00 PLUS attorneys’ fees in the amount of $2,700.00 PLUS $100.00 per month penalties if W failed to pay H within 90 days.

W appealed.

The Appellate Court disagreed with the trial court and overturned the trial court’s findings.

 “Here, in setting forth their agreement regarding spousal support, the parties used form SB-12035, which required them to check a box if they wanted the section 4337 termination provision to apply.  The trial court agreed that the form represented an agreement between the parties.  However, it found the argument that section 4337 does not apply because there appears to be a check box and it wasn’t checked to be a bit disingenuous.  We disagree.  Form SB-12035’s check box provides a sufficient ‘writing’ to represent the parties’ agreement to waive section 4337.”

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