Alimony has existed since ancient times. It developed to protect ex-wives raising minor children following separation from their primary economic providers, i.e., husbands. Traditionally, women had limited occupational opportunities outside the household necessitating continued financial support from ex-spouses. Once a woman remarried, however, her new husband became responsible for her financial wellbeing, and her ex-husband could lawfully cease spousal support payments.
California follows this traditional rule despite the declining popularity of long-term spousal support awards. If one spouse remarries or registers a domestic partnership in California, conventional alimony obligations terminate. A family law firm may review any applicable alimony orders and martial settlements to determine whether you may lawfully cease spousal support payments.
Types of Alimony Subject to Remarriage Termination Provisions
California permits divorcing partners to negotiate private spousal support agreements or request court-ordered alimony. Judicial orders may provide for lump-sum awards, short-term support, or perpetual support payments. Short-term alimony helps lower-income spouses reestablish themselves in the workforce and usually expires via court order before the receiving spouse remarries. Likewise, lump support awards generally vest upon entry of the divorce decree.
Remarriage most often impacts long-term or perpetual alimony agreements and awards. Under Section 4337 of the California Family Code, spousal support payments automatically terminate upon the receiving party’s remarriage unless otherwise agreed to in writing. Remarriage, therefore, will override judicial alimony orders in California. A subsequent marriage also terminates spousal support obligations outlined in divorce settlements unless the contract expressly provides that the support continues after the receiving party’s remarriage. An attorney can review your divorce settlement agreement to determine whether you may lawfully cease paying spousal support in California.
Special Rules Applicable to Ending Spousal Maintenance Payments
Alimony atomically ends upon the receiving spouse’s lawful remarriage without any action necessary on the payer’s part. California Family Code § 4334 requires the receiving spouse to notify the obligor of the remarriage. Failure to do so requires the remarried spouse to refund all alimony payments made following the remarriage, minus arrears. The following special rules also apply to spousal support and related obligations following the receiver’s remarriage:
- The paying spouse must cover arrears even after remarriage
- Remarriage does not terminate associated child support payments
- The remarried spouse need not return any part of support payments made via real or personal property transfers
- Remarriage does not terminate other agreed upon spousal obligations in a court order or divorce settlement
- Cohabitation without remarriage or registered partnership does not automatically terminate alimony
- Unlawful remarriages, i.e., commitment ceremonies, do not automatically terminate support payments
Ex-spouses notified of a pending remarriage should always speak with a spousal support lawyer before ceasing alimony payments. Receiving spouses often hide their remarriage to avoid family conflict or recover additional payments. As such, obligors often receive information about the nuptials from their children, friends, or third parties. Continue paying alimony until you receive confirmation of a lawful remarriage from your ex-spouse or public database. You may recover overpayments, and potential sanctions, in court, but judges will not generally excuse missed payments based on secondary information.
Petitioning to Terminate Alimony Upon an Ex-Spouse’s Remarriage or Cohabitation
Many couples live in marriage-like relationships without entering into a legal marriage or registered domestic partnership. Spousal support does not automatically terminate in such cases, but courts may consider modifying or terminating alimony based on these changed circumstances. Cohabitation in a marriage-like relationship often qualifies as a substantial change supporting court-order termination of spousal maintenance awards under Cal. Fam. Code § 4336.
During the pendency of spousal support terms, paying spouses may petition for an order to cease alimony payments or demand recalculation. Obligors typically request orders demanding their ex-spouses to show why the court should not terminate support due to changed economic circumstances. Obligors must generally include admissible evidence supporting their termination petitions, which may include the following:
- Affidavits (notarized statements) from friends or relatives about cohabitation or remarriage
- A marriage certificate
- Evidence of an ex-spouse’s changed address
- Social media posts indicating a wedding ceremony or cohabitation
- Text messages and emails from an ex-spouse
The court may order the ex-spouse to provide updated expense reports or reveal information about his/her finances and relationship. If the judge terminates or modifies alimony based on cohabitation, the obligor may request reimbursement for support paid after filing the modification/termination petition. The obligor might even request a refund if the ex-spouse hid a relationship or failed to report substantially changed circumstances to avoid reduced alimony.
Prohibition on Reviving Terminated Spousal Maintenance in California
In rare cases, the receiving spouse will innocently remarry only to discover she entered into an unlawful marriage. She may also quickly regret her remarriage and lawfully petition for an annulment. Unlike divorce, annulments void the remarriage. California law also automatically terminates certain prohibited marriages. One spouse may cease support obligations following the receiving spouse’s remarriage in such cases but face post-annulment demands for continued support payments.
California does not allow the receiving ex-spouse to revive spousal support following remarriage despite subsequent annulment or legal invalidity (Sefton v. Sefton, 45 Cal.2d 872 (1955)). If receiving spouses participate in marriage ceremonies, they waive future support obligations from their ex-spouses. The ex-spouses may freely rely upon the new marriage’s validity and cease alimony payments in most circumstances.
California Spousal Support Termination Lawyers
Before stopping alimony payments upon an ex-spouse’s apparent remarriage, consider connecting with a California family attorney. A lawyer may review any applicable divorce settlements and related court orders for remarriage provisions, and domestic relations firms might even help you lawfully gather evidence of remarriage or cohabitation.
Most ex-spouses do not volunteer information about their remarriage to an ex-spouse, especially if it means automatic spousal support termination. They might, however, agree to terminate support after hearing from an alimony attorney. You may even recover overpayments and additional damages if it appears your ex-spouse willfully hid his/her remarriage or avoided registering a legal marriage to obtain continued alimony. Consider discussing your spousal support termination rights with a local family lawyer today.