New Case Law: Spousal support and a well-drafted judgment

In Oregon, the court may award three different types of spousal support, depending on the facts of a case. The court can award transitional support to allow a spouse to obtain education or re-enter the work force. The court can award compensatory support to compensate one spouse for a contribution to the other’s career. The court can award maintenance support to maintain a standard of living, which can be temporary or indefinite in length.

Last week, the Oregon Court of Appeals filed an opinion where a 10 year spousal maintenance award was extended indefinitely. In Deboer and Deober, 212 Or App ____, ____ P3d ___ (2007), the court upheld a trial court that increased a husband’s spousal support obligation and extended the term indefinitely. After a 20 year marriage, wife was awarded 10 years of support at $600 per month. The judgment did not identify the type of support awarded, or the reason behind the support award. Wife had some health problems that existed prior to the divorce, and developed severe foot problems that affected her ability to work after the divorce. Wife filed to modify her spousal support in 2004.

In Oregon, a spousal support order can be modified, but only where the court finds there has been a “significant, unanticipated change in circumstances.” Basically, this means something big changed, and it wasn’t something the parties foresaw at the time of the initial action.

In this case, the court discussed that the worsening of wife’s foot condition caused a substantial deterioration of her health. Even though wife had health issues at the time of the divorce in 1995, the court held that wife had shown a substantial and unanticipated change in circumstances due to a deterioration in health, causing her to be unemployable. The court upheld the trial court’s ruling which increased wife’s spousal support to $1000 per month, and made it indefinite.

What does this mean to men and women in divorce court with spousal support issues? Your final judgment should clearly describe the reason why support is being awarded, or you risk the court filling in the gap later and extending or terminating the support. The result in Deboer might have been different if the judgment clearly indicated why Wife was receiving support.

One way to address (or prevent) a future modification motion is to enter into a settlement that restricts the parties’ ability to modify support. In McInnis and McInnis, 199 Or. App 223 (2005), the parties included specific language in the settlement making husband’s support obligation non-modifiable. Wife later filed to modify and extend her support payment. The trial court granted wife’s motion and extended her support payment. On appeal, the court reversed the trial court decision and held that parties could validly waive their rights to modify settlements, including spousal support. A McInnis style restriction on modification may be useful in cases where parties want to guarantee the length and amount of support.

About Sean Stephens

By Sean Stephens Google + Sean Stephens is divorce and family law lawyer, and a founding member of Stephens & Margolin LLP He was born in Eugene, Oregon and is a fourth generation Oregonian. Sean Stephens attended the University of Oregon, and graduated in with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, with a minor in English Literature. His psychology studies emphasized early childhood development. You can find more about Sean Stephens at Stephens & Margolin LLP Follow him
This entry was posted in Dissolution, Legal Developments, Modification, Spousal Support. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to New Case Law: Spousal support and a well-drafted judgment

  1. Dave says:

    Hello, I live in Oregon, was divorced in Oregon. My ex-spouse was and is living in Oregon. 6 years ago we divorced. There was no children from the marriage, but she had three of her own. I married young and dumb (19) and she was 26. She had an abused past with a former spouse who abused the children and she also had two alcoholic parents.

    Anyway. She was awarded $400 in alimony from me that is deemed indefinite in the court papers that were signed. I have no idea how much money she makes, but think it is adequate enough for her to support herself. The kids are all over 18 now, and I personally feel that she should learn to live on her own merits now. However, I am not sure if the courts would see it my way. She will NOT disclose to me how much money she earns from her job. I do have confidence that she has been at her job for about 10 years now.

    My question is: What can I do to renegotiate the support or have it removed? Or, is this possible? I am make MUCH less at my job now. I am trying to go back to college to make a career change.

  2. It sounds like the Court of Appeals got this one right.

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