There is a presumption in California Law that a marriage of ten years is deemed to be a long term marriage. In some instances, marriages of shorter duration have also been found to be a marriage of long duration. The significance of this finding is found in Family Code, Section 4336, which states:
“Except on written agreement of the parties to the contrary or a court order terminating spousal support, the court retains jurisdiction indefinitely in a proceeding for dissolution of marriage or for legal separation of the parties where the marriage is of long duration.”
Let us say that the Judgment of Dissolution states that Husband would pay $2,000 per month for a period of sixty months for spousal support and that the support would “terminate forever and no court shall have any jurisdiction to extend this award of spousal support either as to the amount or duration after said date.”
Prior to the expiration of this sixty month term, wife filed an application to extend spousal support beyond the sixty months. Wife argued that the agreement entered into previously implicitly authorized continuing jurisdiction of the court to modify support so long as the request was made before the end of the sixty month time period. As might be expected, the trial court rejected Wife’s argument stating that the agreement was explicit enough in that it did not have jurisdiction to continue the payments.
Wife appealed. The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court and accepted Wife’s argument. The Court stated that parties can agree that a support order shall not be subject to court modification, but that explicit written language is required to terminate jurisdiction to modify. In light of a strong public policy in favor of retention of jurisdiction over the issue of spousal support, particularly in long marriages, any ambiguity as to a provision attempting to make an order non-modifiable will be construed in favor of retaining jurisdiction.