Gavron Warning: Get a Job or Lose Spousal Support

After being married for over 25 years, and with an adult child, Husband [H] and Wife [W] separated in December of 1976.  During the marriage, W worked at low-level jobs to support W while he went to dental school.  After his H’s dental office opened, W became a homemaker.  When the couple separated, W returned to low-level employment, but found it too physically difficult for her.

In 1979, the trial court awarded W $1100.00 per month in spousal support until further order of the court.  In 1981, H went back into court and requested a reduction in spousal support.  The court denied H’s request.

In 1986, H returned to court requesting that spousal support to W be terminated. After a hearing in March,1987, the court ordered that (1) current ordered support payments of $1,100 continue until August 1, 1987, and then cease’ and (2) the court retain jurisdiction over the issue of spousal support until the death or remarriage of W.

In court, W claimed that she had arthritis, among other age-related problems and working was difficult.  She also was the caretaker for her elderly mother who lived with her.  W also claimed that she had to sell several assets and had no money to repair her car.  However, at the time of trial, she had $40,000 in savings, was debt free, and owned her home outright (estimated by W to be worth $240,000).  On the other hand, H was supporting his two step-children in private schools, and had to cash-in his pension plan to support his current standard of living.

At the end of the hearing, the trial court stated:  "Aside from demonstrating a lack of diligence, in regards to becoming employed, [W] remains highly improvident by relying on [H] for her sole support. She apparently has given no thought to the possibility that [H] may become incapacitated or meet an untimely demise. It should be noted that a marriage of twenty-five (25) years is not tantamount to social security. The Court is mindful that this is a lengthy marriage and that [H's] duty to support [W] will not terminate by the mere passage of time. Nonetheless, [W's] failure to become employable or to seek training after so many years shift[s] the burden to her to demonstrate her continued need for support in light of her continued inaction in this regard."  W appealed and the Appellate Court reversed.

“…We recognize that it is in the best interests of both spouses and of society in general that the supported spouse become self-sufficient. Civil Code section 4801, subdivision (a)(1)(A) expressly directs that in determining the amount and duration of spousal support, a court is to consider as a factor the supported spouse's marketable skills and ability to engage in gainful employment. [4] As the court observed in In re Marriage of Morrison, supra, 20 Cal.3d at page 451, ‘It certainly may be inferred that by specifically setting forth this factor, the Legislature intended that all supported spouses who were able to do so should seek employment. It also appears the Legislature expected that courts would issue orders encouraging these spouses to seek employment and to work toward becoming self-supporting.’

“…Inherent in the concept that the supported spouse's failure to at least make good-faith efforts to become self-sufficient can constitute a change in circumstances which could warrant a modification in spousal support is the premise that the supported spouse be made aware of the obligation to become self-supporting. It is particularly appropriate here that there should have been some 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…”

In other words, in Family Court what is now known as a Gavron Warning is a fair warning to the supported spouse that he/she is expected to become self-supporting, and such "warning" must include notice of the potential consequences of failing to become self-supporting.

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