An important case came down earlier this year regarding spousal support, holding that the supported party in what is referred to as a Richmond order must show changed circumstances such as “unrealized expectations” to warrant an extension of support.  In IRMO Khera & Sameer (CA 6 – Opinion filed June 19, 2012), the court also determined that a voluntary decision to pursue a doctoral degree rather than going to work full time is not a change of circumstances that warrants an extension of support.

The case centers around two parties that had reached a judgment that included spousal support.  Wife moved to set aside the judgment and then moved to modify spousal support by extending it beyond the scheduled termination date.  Husband opposed the relief request.

The appellate court ultimately denied Wife’s motion.  In its decision, it cited California Family Code § 4330 (a), which provides that support of a party may be ordered in an amount and for a period of time, that the court determines is just and reasonable based on the standard of living established during the marriage.  It also stated that several factors that are listed in Family Code § 4320 must be considered.

Also cited was Family Code § 3651(d), which states that a support order may be modified or terminated at any time unless the parties agree otherwise in writing or orally on the record in open court.  IRMO McCann (1996) 41 Cal.App.4th 978, 982, dictates that modification of spousal support, even if the prior amount is established by agreement, requires a material change of circumstances since the last order.

A material change of circumstances may be found in the unrealized expectations of the supported party.  However, under IRMO Farrell (1985) 171 Cal.App.3d 695, a change of circumstances may not be found by reconsidering a circumstance that has not changed since the previous order.  If changed circumstances are proved, a trial court presented with a request to modify a spousal support order must then reconsider the criteria set for in Family Code § 4320.