You have been working for decades, and you are ready to retire. You have earned enough to support yourself in retirement, but your investment income or pension payments will not cover your expenses and your former spouse’s. So, can you retire? Or, must you keep working just to meet your alimony obligations?
Retirement and Spousal Support in California
Under California law, as a general rule, a former spouse who is paying alimony and who is also eligible for retirement does not have to keep working solely in order to meet his or her spousal support obligations. The case of In re. Marriage of Reynolds, decided in 1998, established that alimony payors are entitled to retire at age 65 even if retiring means that they will be unable to meet their support obligations. Of course, this does not mean that retirees can simply stop paying alimony—to avoid being held in violation of the terms of his or her divorce, the payor must petition the court for an order terminating his or her spousal support obligations.
The rule allowing for reduction or termination of alimony payments at retirement is based on a general doctrine that allows the California courts to modify a spousal support order based upon a material change in circumstances. If the paying former spouse gets injured and is unable to work, loses his or her position due to a reduction in force, or otherwise loses the source of income used to pay spousal support, California law says that, generally speaking, he or she can petition for a modification or termination. Recognizing that individuals should not be forced to work beyond retirement age (as a matter of general public policy), the courts will allow for retirement to support a request for modification or termination as well.
At Retirement, the Spousal Support Factors Still Apply
However, this does not mean that retiring automatically entitles you to a court order terminating your spousal support obligations—a request to terminate or modify support at retirement must still be analyzed under California’s spousal support factors. The 2016 California Court of Appeal case of In re. Marriage of Shimkus made this clear. In re. Marriage of Shimkus is also noteworthy because it acknowledges that early retirement (before age 65) can support a request for modification or termination of spousal support under appropriate circumstances.
Terminating or Modifying Spousal Support Upon Early Retirement
In re. Marriage of Shimkus involved a husband’s request to terminate spousal support. He and his wife divorced after a marriage of 22 years, and two years after the divorce the husband sought to terminate spousal support payments based upon his decision to retire at age 61. The husband was a firefighter; and, according to California law, the “normal retirement age” for a firefighter is 55.
Upon considering the evidence, including the husband’s testimony that he was retiring, “because [he] was too old to do the job adequately,” the trial court granted his request to terminate spousal support. But, the Court of Appeal for California’s Fourth District issued a partial reversal. While it agreed that the husband’s retirement prior to age 65 was adequate justification for his request, it stated that the lower court must weigh the spousal support factors to determine whether a termination or modification was more appropriate.
North County, CA Divorce Lawyer
When seeking to establish, modify or terminate spousal support in California, it is critical to carefully assess all of the unique facts and circumstances involved in your individual case. The terms of your divorce decree are important, as are the various factors that merit consideration in spousal support matters under California law. If you are preparing for a divorce or have questions about modifying or terminating spousal support, the Law Office of Renkin & Associates can help. To request a confidential case evaluation, please call 619-299-7100 or inquire online today.