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New Case Law: Spousal support and a well-drafted judgment May 9, 2007

Posted by csstephens in Dissolution, Legal Developments, Modification, Spousal Support.
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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.

Comments»

1. Dave - February 15, 2008

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. Barbara - October 8, 2008

Dave,
I feel for you in the worst way and wondered if you ever heard anything from anyone with regards to your question. I would love to think there is some “man’s army” out there trying to get the darn divorce laws in Oregon changed where alimony, maintenance, and modification is concerned. Let me know if you’ve heard anything. If not, good luck to you.

3. Stewart - October 18, 2010

Dave, I have a 2500.00 monthly payment that has nearly bankrupted me. I have spent my life savings and have to file to modify.

My divorce had a finite time to it of five years but ow after 3.5, I am in trouble. I am trying this month to change it but don’t know if I can actually hold on until my house will be lost.

I feel for you and lots of other people, men and women, who somehow have the system on their side and take advantage of it.

I have our 3 elementary school kids 65% of the time and see them suffering at my house for the financial loss.

My Ex is not yet employed but has 100,k plus in the bank and gets unemployment.

My wages have dropped and now literally 85% of my take home goes to her. That leaves me about 900.00 a month to live on: Mortgage of 2000., utilities, groceries, school needs, clothing, etc….

Yet, the laws in Oregon seem to favor the female or the one not working… not the one working. its as if it has become a case for welfare from the working spouse. Once on it, its impossible to get off it.

4. jeff - May 4, 2011

was this possibly ordered by Judge kurshner in Multnomah County? I was only making $45,000 a year and my wife( ex-wife0 $21,000 a year. I was awarded custody of our three children and got $470.00 a month child support until the children turned eighteen and she received $500.00 a month alimony for an indefinite period!!!


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