Sometimes spousal support is ordered for a few years, sometimes it is ordered until one party dies or remarries, and well…sometimes a party has to pay even after death. Poor choices in wording for a stipulation made Vincent Kircher’s widow liable for paying Vincent’s ex wife spousal support even after he died.
In Kirchner v. Kirchner, Bonnie and Vincent separated after a nine-year marriage. The parties filed a stipulation in which Vincent would pay Bonnie $2,000.00 per month “until the death of [Bonnie] or until the remarriage of [Bonnie] or proof that [Bonnie] has lived with another person in a marital-like relationship for thirty or more consecutive days.” In addition, Vincent agreed to purchase or lease a new vehicle for Bonnie at least every five years and to maintain health insurance for her benefit, both obligations to continue “until the death of [Bonnie], her remarriage, or proof that [Bonnie] has lived with another person in a marital-like relationship for thirty or more consecutive days.” Soon after making this agreement, Vincent remarried.
According to Family Code, §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.” Usually, if either party dies, the surviving spouse no longer receives or no longer has to pay spousal support. We typically do not make the deceased pay or pay the deceased.
Herein lies the problem: the language used by Bonnie and Vincent in their stipulation made spousal support terminate only upon Bonnie’s death (or remarriage or proof she cohabited for more than thirty consecutive days). The court found that because of the specific language used in the stipulation, Vincent “knowingly and intentionally waived the otherwise automatic termination of the spousal support provisions on his death.”
Vincent died and Bonnie sued Vincent’s widow alleging the widow was personally liable for Vincent’s debt and ongoing obligation to her under Probate Code, §§13550-13552. The court found that because Vincent waived his right to have spousal support terminate upon his death, pursuant to Family Code, §4337, Bonnie could enforce the support obligation against Vincent’s widow’s real properties that she had held in joint tenancy with Vincent. If Vincent wasn’t already dead, his widow probably would have killed him for making this deal.