As dreary as economics have been in recent times, one benefit derived from the “Great Recession” has been an increase in labor mobility. Labor mobility—geographic and occupational, describe the ebb and flow of workers from place to place and job to job. If all workers in the United States stayed in the same area and at the same job, there would be little growth. When workers move around and change locations and jobs it increases competition and stimulates the economy. So, what the heck does this have to do with family law?
The spousal support scheme in California (and many other states) dictates that support will remain the same unless there is a material change in circumstances. In re Marriage of Terry, (2000) 80 Cal.App.4th 921, 928. A material change in circumstances includes anything effecting the payee’s spouse’s needs or the ability of the payor spouse to pay, including pay increases. So, if the payor spouse changes jobs, gets a raise, etc. then there has been a material change in circumstances.
In addition, spousal support stops when the payee spouse remarries. Although the public policy of California is to support marriage, the law has the perverse effect of creating a disincentive to remarry since payee spouses may be cut-off from support once they remarry. In fact under California Family Code § 4323, they may even see a reduction in support if they have a cohabitant living with them. Under §4323, once a payee spouse has a cohabitant living with them, there is a rebuttable presumption of a decreased need for support since their cohabitant should help shoulder some of the expenses.
So, although there are valid reasons for changing spousal support upon changes in circumstances, terminating support upon remarriage, and reducing support upon evidence of cohabitation, all of these policies create disincentives to participate in both the economic and social marketplace.