There’s a common misconception about how a person’s support obligation changes after an ex-spouse remarries. For purposes of this discussion, let’s say Joe is paying child support to his ex-wife, Traci, for their daughter Angela. After a year or so of being on her own, Traci meets, falls in love with and marries a plastic surgeon. Almost overnight, Traci’s lifestyle undergoes a transformation. From being a single, working mother on her own, she’s now a stay-at-home mom living in a multi-million-dollar home.
Doesn’t it seem like Joe’s child support payments should end now that Traci and Angela are living the good life? Under California law—and with slight variations in most other states—the answer is: No.
The child support order made at the time of the divorce is generally based on the respective incomes of the two parties. This order can be modified for such reasons as a change in the supporting parent’s income. If that income decreases significantly (say, Joe loses his job as a forklift operator at Home Depot), he can petition the Court to change the amount of child support he’s required to pay. If his income increases (he’s named manager of forklift operators), he can alert Traci and offer to raise the amount of monthly payment, or Traci can petition the Court for increased support.
But as far as seeking to terminate child support payments because Traci is now a plastic surgeon’s wife? This change has little to no effect on the original child support order. Traci’s new husband may voluntarily help support Angela, but because she’s not his biological child, he’s not legally obliged to do so.
Spousal support (formerly called “alimony”) is an altogether different story.
According to California Family Code Section 4337, “Except as otherwise agreed by the parties in writing, the obligation of a party under an order for the support of the other party terminates upon the death of either party or the remarriage of the other party.” In other words, unless an agreement had been made to the contrary, Traci’s remarriage automatically ends Joe’s obligation to pay spousal support.
A Final Point: there are cases where the supported spouse lives with a new partner for a substantial period of time, but isn’t officially married—in which case, spousal support payments have to continue as usual. For this reason, as part of any divorce agreement, a supporting spouse should request that “non-platonic cohabitation” with another person, with or without a duration period defined, will also terminate the supporting spouse’s spousal support obligation. This helps clarify the situation and may have a significant legal impact on the termination of a spousal support obligation.
Are you in need of legal counseling or have any questions about the above topic? The Law Offices of Ian S. Topf offer free consultation in a variety of issues, ranging from family law/divorce, bankruptcy, and estate planning to criminal/DUI matters and landlord/tenant disputes.