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«CHILD AND SPOUSAL SUPPORT [REVISED 2012] ABOUT CJER The California Center for Judicial Education and Research (CJER), as the Education Division of ...»

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If the court enters a retroactive order decreasing or terminating support, it may order the support obligee to repay any amounts the support obligor paid under the prior order that exceed the amounts due under the retroactive order. Fam C §3653(c). The court may require repayment over any period of time and in any manner it deems just and reasonable, including by an offset against future support payments or a wage assignment. Fam C §3653(c). In determining whether to order repayment, and in establishing the terms of repayment, the court must consider all of

the following factors (Fam C §3653(c)):

• The amount to be repaid.

• The duration of the support order before modification or termination.

• The financial impact of the method of repayment on the support obligee.

• Any other facts or circumstances the court deems relevant.

§201.64 California Judges Benchguide 201–52 L. [§201.64] Setting Aside Support Order The court may relieve a party from all or any part of a support order, on any terms that may be just, after the six-month time limit of CCP §473 has run. Fam C §3690(a). The grounds for relief are actual fraud, perjury, or lack of notice. See Fam C §3691. See also Judicial Council form FLRequest for Hearing and Application to Set Aside Support Order Under Fam C §3691, adopted for mandatory use. The motion for relief must be brought within six months after the date on which the party discovered or reasonably should have discovered the ground for relief. See Fam C §3691.

Before granting relief, the court must find that the facts alleged as the grounds for relief materially affected the support order and that the moving party would materially benefit from the granting of relief. Fam C §3690(b). The court may not set aside a support order merely because it finds the order was inequitable when made, or subsequent circumstances caused the amount of support ordered to become excessive or inadequate.

Fam C §3692. Generally, the court is restricted to setting aside only those provisions of the support order that are materially affected by the circumstances leading to the court’s decision to grant relief, but the court may set aside the entire order based on equitable considerations. Fam C §3693.


A. [§201.65] Temporary Support During the pendency of a proceeding for dissolution of marriage or legal separation, the court may order the husband or wife to pay any amount that is necessary for the support of the other party. Fam C §3600.

Temporary spousal support, sometimes called “pendente lite” support, is typically ordered to maintain the living conditions and standards of the parties as close to the status quo as possible pending trial and the division of the parties’ assets and obligations. Marriage of Burlini (1983) 143 CA3d 65, 68, 191 CR 541. A court may order temporary spousal support in any amount after considering the moving party’s needs and the other party’s ability to pay. Marriage of Murray (2002) 101 CA4th 581, 594, 124 CR2d 342. See Marriage of Jacobson (2004) 121 CA4th 1187, 1191– 1193, 18 CR3d 162 (in dissolution proceeding filed by Indian spouse against non-Indian spouse, court had jurisdiction to order petitioner to pay temporary spousal support to respondent from her tribal gaming distributions notwithstanding tribal resolution prohibiting former spouses who are not tribal members from receiving these distributions; resolution is inconsistent with California law). The court may look to the parties’ accustomed marital lifestyle as the main basis for a temporary support 201–53 Child Support and Spousal Support §201.66 order. Marriage of Wittgrove (2004) 120 CA4th 1317, 1327, 16 CR3d 489.


• In reality, the cost of supporting two households is higher than supporting one, so it is often not possible to maintain the status quo. All the court can do is equitably allocate the family income to maintain the parties in as close to their preseparation condition as possible. See Marriage of Burlini, supra, 143 CA3d at 69.

• The court may find it beneficial to review the factors in Fam C §4320 (mandatory considerations for awarding permanent or longterm spousal support) when setting temporary support.

If a spouse has been convicted of domestic violence against the other spouse within five years of the family law proceeding, there is a rebuttable presumption against awarding temporary spousal support to the abusive spouse. Fam C §4325. In addition, the court must consider any documented history of domestic violence between the parties when setting temporary spousal support. See Fam C §3600 (temporary order must be consistent with requirements of Fam C §§4320(i), 4320(m), and 4325).

Temporary spousal support may not be awarded to a spouse convicted of attempting to murder the other spouse or of soliciting the murder of the other spouse. Fam C §4324. See discussion in §201.84. See also Marriage of MacManus (2010) 182 CA4th 330, 105 CR3d 785 (court did not abuse its discretion in reallocating distribution of back child support to back spousal support in light of support obligor’s history of domestic violence).

The court has jurisdiction to award temporary spousal support to a party even after that party’s default. Such an award is based on need, and the merits and procedural posture of the case are irrelevant. Marriage of Askmo (2000) 85 CA4th 1032, 1036–1040, 102 CR2d 662.

1. [§201.66] Use of Court Schedules or Formulas Many courts have adopted schedules or formulas for determining temporary spousal support that divide the family income proportionately based either on the net income of the party being asked to pay support or on the net incomes of both parties. These guidelines promote consistency in temporary support orders and may reduce the need for hearings;

however, they are not mandatory and should not be used in cases with unusual facts or circumstances. Marriage of Burlini (1983) 143 CA3d 65, 70, 191 CR 541. Some special circumstances that might justify a deviation from the guideline amount include the following (Marriage of Burlini,


§201.67 California Judges Benchguide 201–54

• Tax consequences contemplated by the guideline, e.g., temporary spousal support not to be taxable to the recipient, are incorrect.

• Party is paying spousal or child support from a prior relationship.

• Party is encumbered with unusually large mortgage payments or other monthly payments.

• Party has special expenses or special needs.

For examples of local court spousal support guidelines, see Alameda County rule 5.70, Santa Clara County rule 3(B).

 JUDICIAL TIP: Some certified child support programs incorporate local formulas for calculating temporary spousal support. The judge should check the software and local court rules.

2. [§201.67] Duration of Temporary Spousal Support Order The court can order temporary spousal support from the time of the filing of a petition for dissolution of marriage. Fam C §§3600, 2330. The

order will remain in effect until:

• Judgment is issued (Wilson v Superior Court (1948) 31 C2d 458, 463, 189 P2d 266). But note, the court retains the power to order temporary support during pendency of any appeal (Bain v Superior Court (1974) 36 CA3d 804, 808–810, 111 CR 848);

• The case is dismissed (Moore v Superior Court (1970) 8 CA3d 804, 810, 87 CR 620); or

• The order expires on its own terms (a “sunset” provision, e.g., for some marriages of short duration).

If there is no termination of the order of support, payment obligation continues to accrue even if the action is not being actively litigated, and payments that accrue before termination remain enforceable after termination. Moore v Superior Court, supra. But the order is not enforceable during any period when the parties have reconciled and are living together. Fam C §3602.

3. [§201.68] Modification of Temporary Spousal Support A court may modify or terminate a temporary spousal support order at any time. The court’s power to modify or terminate is limited, however,

in two respects:

• The court may not modify or terminate the payor’s liability for payments that accrued before the date of filing the notice of motion 201–55 Child Support and Spousal Support §201.69 or order to show cause to modify or terminate the order. Fam C §3603.

• The court may not retroactively modify a temporary support order.

Family Code §3603 establishes the filing date of the modification motion or OSC to modify as the outermost limit of retroactivity.

Marriage of Gruen (2011) 191 CA4th 627, 637, 120 CR3d 184;

Marriage of Murray (2002) 101 CA4th 581, 595–596, 124 CR2d 342; Marriage of Goodman (2011) 191 CA4th 627, 638–639, 120 CR3d 184.

Temporary spousal support may be modified without a showing of changed circumstances. See Sande v Sande (1969) 276 CA2d 324, 329, 80 CR 826; Zinke v Zinke (1963) 212 CA2d 379, 382–385, 28 CR 7. But see Marriage of Murray, supra, 101 CA4th at 581, 597 n11 (dicta).

 JUDICIAL TIP: Many judges deny modification of temporary spousal support when no change of circumstances is shown, if only to prevent parties returning to the trial court in the hope of a more favorable ruling.

B. Permanent Support 1. [§201.69] What Constitutes Permanent Support Permanent spousal support may be awarded in a judgment of dissolution or legal separation in an amount and for a period of time the court determines is just and reasonable, based on the parties’ standard of living established during the marriage, and taking into consideration the factors in Fam C §4320. Fam C §4330(a). See §§201.71–201.85. Although spousal support awarded in a final judgment is generally referred to as “permanent,” the actual duration of support is within the court’s discretion and subject to modification.

“Spousal support” is broadly defined to include a wide variety of financial assistance designed to cover everyday living expenses, including housing, food, clothing, health, recreation, vacation, and travel expenses.

See Marriage of Benjamins (1994) 26 CA4th 423, 429, 31 CR2d 313. For example, the court may order the supporting spouse to (Fam C §4360(a);

see 26 CA4th at 430–431):

• Maintain health insurance for the other spouse.

• Make mortgage payments to the supported spouse or directly to the mortgagor.

• Pay overdue community debts or the supported spouse’s future debts.

§201.70 California Judges Benchguide 201–56

• Take out a life insurance policy with the other spouse as beneficiary.

• Purchase an annuity or establish a trust to support the other spouse after the supporting spouse’s death.

• Pay the supported spouse’s attorneys’ fees based on need.

2. [§201.70] Effect of Temporary Support on Permanent Support Unlike temporary spousal support, the purpose of permanent spousal support is not to preserve the status quo, but to provide financial assistance, if appropriate, as determined by the parties’ financial circumstances after dissolution and the division of their community property. Marriage of Burlini (1983) 143 CA3d 65, 69, 191 CR 541. In determining permanent spousal support, the court must consider a complex variety of statutory factors (Fam C §4320; see §§201.71–201.85), including several factors that tend to favor reduced support, such as the “goal” that the supported spouse should become self-supporting within a reasonable period of time (Fam C §4320(l)).

Because the considerations in awarding the two types of support are different and because of the reality that temporary support tends to be higher than permanent support, the court should not use the amount of temporary support in determining the amount of permanent support.

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