Getting Spousal Support For Life (Or At Least Until Retirement)


After a 37 year marriage, Dr. Gordon Reynolds was ordered to pay his wife Polly, the sum of $5,500.00 per month for spousal support. Later, Dr. Reynolds was terminated from his employment and he decided to retire (at age 67). He filed to reduce or terminate spousal support stating that his termination and decision to retire at age 67 were a change in circumstance justifying either reduction or termination. The Court reduced monthly spousal support from $5,500.00 to $3,500.00 per month. Dr. Reynolds appealed.

Some pertinent history. The parties separated in 1985 after 37 years of marriage. The final Judgment of Dissolution was entered in 1989. Husband agreed to pay Wife $5,500 for support. At the time, Husband was employed and had annual income of $204,000.00. In 1992, Dr. Reynolds underwent leg surgery and was fired from his job at the La Costa Health Spa. He thereafter sought to terminate spousal support. The Court denied his motion apparently, based upon outdated financial information. Subsequently, Dr. Reynolds filed a Motion for Reconsideration submitting new income and expense information, listing his net monthly income as less than $350.00 per month. In opposition, Wife filed a declaration describing her physical and mental disabilities and stating her net monthly income at $1,234.00. Additionally, Mrs. Reynolds contended that Husband understated his income and attached a newspaper announcement of Husband’s recently opened medical clinic. The doctor filed a rebuttal stating the new practice had been unsuccessful and he had closed it. It also described various efforts that he had made without success to seek other employment and concluded that at age 67 the doctor realized it was finally time to retire. A subsequent Income and Expense Declaration filed stated Dr. Reynolds current net monthly income was $2,871.00, excluding investment income and that as of January 1, 1994 his net monthly income increased to $3,486.00.

At hearing, Wife continued to argue the doctor was understating his income and continued to be employed. Husband continued to take the position that he has been retired since December 12, 1993.

Following further motions in Court relating to the Statement of Intended Decision, the Court finally ruled in March of 1995, reducing support to $3,500.00 per month and included in the ruling some specific factual findings amongst which was that Husband had current monthly income of $5,000.00 based upon his investment income and ability to work.

The Appellate Court noted that the Trial Court is vested with broad discretion in deciding whether to reduce or terminate a spousal support Order. Any change in the Order must be based upon (1) a material change in the facts or circumstances existing at the time the Order is made and (2) a consideration of the needs of both parties as well as their respective abilities to meet their needs. The party appealing an Order, must not only demonstrate the existence of a material change in facts or circumstance, but also that as a matter of law the Trial Court has abused it’s discretion. An Abuse of Discretion is “…when, after, calm and careful reflection upon the entire matter, it can fairly be said that no judge would reasonably make the same Order under the same circumstances. The Appellate Court sustained such a finding in this case. Observing that 1) There was nothing presented before the Court to sustain an income to Husband of $5,000.00 per month; 2) Even if the Trial Court calculated the income, in part, based upon an ability to earn, there was no evidence submitted by Wife to support potential earnings capacity; and 3) “Furthermore, we hold that no one may be compelled to work after the usual retirement age of 65 in order to pay the same level of spousal support as when he was employed. Though previous case law has not squarely confronted this issue, we face it now.”

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