When Can An Alimony Agreement Be Modified?
A support order may be modified at any time as the court determines to be necessary. Family Code section 3651(a). however, a spousal support order may not be modified if there was previously a written agreement, or an oral agreement entered into in open court between the parties that specifically provides that the spousal support is not subject to modification or termination. Family Code section 3651(d).
After a judgement in a dissolution matter is final, the court’s jurisdiction to modify spousal support may not exist unless jurisdiction was reserved. For marriages of long duration (a marriage of 10 years or more), a statute gives the court indefinite jurisdiction over spousal support unless the parties have an agreement to the contrary. Family Code section 4336. This is in contrast with child support where the court always retains jurisdiction to modify a support order up or down. In the case of Marriage of Hibbard 212 CA4th 1007, for example, held that the court had no discretion to terminate the husband’s spousal support obligation even when he suffered total disability because the marriage settlement agreement specifically stated that the support was nonmodifiable below a set floor.
In cases where the court retains jurisdiction to modify the spousal support order, the basis for modification is a change in circumstances. An example can be seen in the case of In re Marriage of West 152 Cal.App.4th 240 where it was held that a former wife’s change in career was a sufficient change of circumstances for reconsideration of a support order.
The determination of whether a change of circumstances exists may be discovered through the process outlined in Family Code section 3660 which is intended to permit an inexpensive way to obtain information for modification or termination of a support order.
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