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In Divorce Case, Question Of Whether California Court Or Texas Judge Will Decide Spousal Support Amount For Billionaire Couple

In one of the largest billion dollar divorce cases to reach the Texas Supreme Court, attorneys for David Saperstein and Suzanne Saperstein respectively argued over whether Suzanne’s spousal maintenance should be determined by a California court in the state where she resides or by a Texas court in David’s home state. While Texas has a three-year limit for spousal support, the alimony laws in California are much more liberal.

According to Suzanne, David surprised her in July 2005 when he convinced her to disembark from their private jet during a stopover in Houston. Once they were outside the plane, he served her with divorce papers. She later filed her own divorce petition in California where, by law, she is entitled to a larger, more longlasting settlement.

The couple has been married for 20 years. They have 3 children. The youngest one lives in California, while the older two reside in Texas.

Last fall, District Judge Lisa Millard from the Harris County family court agreed with a California judge to divide the support issues between them. Texas was to handle spousal support, while the California judge was to rule over child support and custody. Suzanne appealed Millard’s spousal support order and was denied. She then petitioned the Texas Supreme Court, which is now hearing the case.

Currently, there are competing orders for temporary spousal support. Texas Judge Millard granted Suzanne $33,000 a month, while the California court order a $60,000 a month payment. The $29,500 monthly child support is not in dispute.

This is an unusual case, as, generally, divorce matters are settled by a court in the county where the divorce papers were filed.

There are two kinds of spousal support: temporary support and permanent support.

The temporary support is what is given to one of the spouses while the divorce case is being settled. Permanent support begins after the settlement and continues for as long as agreed upon in the divorce terms. Permanent support is terminated, however, when one of the spouses dies or the spouse receiving the support remarries.

A judge is under no obligation to order spousal support. When they do, however, they calculate temporary support based on the mathematical formula used in the county where the divorce case is being settled. For determining the amount of permanent spousal support in California, the judge must consider the factors named in California Code Section: 4320-25:

4320. In ordering spousal support under this part, the court shall consider all of the following circumstances:

(a) The extent to which the earning capacity of each party is sufficient to maintain the standard of living established during the marriage, taking into account all of the following:

(1) The marketable skills of the supported party; the job market for those skills; the time and expenses required for the supported party to acquire the appropriate education or training to develop those skills; and the possible need for retraining or education to acquire other, more marketable skills or employment.

(2) The extent to which the supported party’s present or future earning capacity is impaired by periods of unemployment that were incurred during the marriage to permit the supported party to devote time to domestic duties.

(b) The extent to which the supported party contributed to the attainment of an education, training, a career position, or a license by the supporting party.
(c) The ability of the supporting party to pay spousal support,taking into account the supporting party’s earning capacity, earned and unearned income, assets, and standard of living.
(d) The needs of each party based on the standard of living established during the marriage.
(e) The obligations and assets, including the separate property,of each party.
(f) The duration of the marriage.
(g) The ability of the supported party to engage in gainful employment without unduly interfering with the interests of dependent children in the custody of the party.
(h) The age and health of the parties.
(i) Documented evidence of any history of domestic violence, as defined in Section 6211, between the parties, including, but not limited to, consideration of emotional distress resulting from domestic violence perpetrated against the supported party by the supporting party, and consideration of any history of violence against the supporting party by the supported party.
(j) The immediate and specific tax consequences to each party.
(k) The balance of the hardships to each party.
(l) The goal that the supported party shall be self-supporting within a reasonable period of time. Except in the case of a marriage of long duration as described in Section 4336, a “reasonable period of time” for purposes of this section generally shall be one-half the length of the marriage. However, nothing in this section is intended to limit the court’s discretion to order support for a greater or lesser length of time, based on any of the other factors listed in this section, Section 4336, and the circumstances of the parties.
(m) The criminal conviction of an abusive spouse shall be considered in making a reduction or elimination of a spousal support award in accordance with Section 4325.
(n) Any other factors the court determines are just and equitable.

4321. In a judgment of dissolution of marriage or legal separation of the parties, the court may deny support to a party out of the separate property of the other party in any of the following circumstances:
(a) The party has separate property, or is earning the party’s own livelihood, or there is community property or quasi-community property sufficient to give the party proper support.
(b) The custody of the children has been awarded to the other party, who is supporting them.

4322. In an original or modification proceeding, where there are no children, and a party has or acquires a separate estate, including income from employment, sufficient for the party’s proper support, no support shall be ordered or continued against the other party.

4323. (a) (1) Except as otherwise agreed to by the parties in writing, there is a rebuttable presumption, affecting the burden of proof, of decreased need for spousal support if the supported party is cohabiting with a person of the opposite sex. Upon a determination that circumstances have changed, the court may modify or terminate the spousal support as provided for in Chapter 6 (commencing with Section 3650) of Part 1.

(2) Holding oneself out to be the husband or wife of the person with whom one is cohabiting is not necessary to constitute cohabitation as the term is used in this subdivision.

(b) The income of a supporting spouse’s subsequent spouse or nonmarital partner shall not be considered when determining or modifying spousal support.

(c) Nothing in this section precludes later modification or termination of spousal support on proof of change of circumstances.

4324. In addition to any other remedy authorized by law, when a spouse is convicted of attempting to murder the other spouse, as punishable pursuant to subdivision (a) of Section 664 of the Penal Code, the injured spouse shall be entitled to a prohibition of any temporary or permanent award for spousal support or medical, life, or other insurance benefits or payments from the injured spouse to the other spouse. As used in this section, “injured spouse” means the spouse who has been the subject of the attempted murder for which the other spouse was convicted, whether or not actual physical injury occurred.

4325. (a) In any proceeding for dissolution of marriage where there is a criminal conviction for an act of domestic violence perpetrated by one spouse against the other spouse entered by the court within five years prior to the filing of the dissolution proceeding, or at any time thereafter, there shall be a rebuttable presumption affecting the burden of proof that any award of temporary or permanent spousal support to the abusive spouse otherwise awardable pursuant to the standards of this part should not be made.

(b) The court may consider documented evidence of a convicted spouse’s history as a victim of domestic violence, as defined in Section 6211, perpetrated by the other spouse, or any other factors the court deems just and equitable, as conditions for rebutting this presumption.
(c) The rebuttable presumption created in this section may be rebutted by a preponderance of the evidence.

Sagaria Law, P.C. represents clients in divorce, spousal support, and child support proceedings in the Santa Clara County, Monterey County, and Alameda County. We believe that family matters are very important matters. Contact Sagaria Law, P.C. today to schedule an appointment for a free, no obligation consultation.

Two states, big lawyers, one high-powered divorce, Chron.com, December 7, 2006
California Family Code

Related Web Resource:

Child, Spousal, & Partner Support, California Courts: Self-Help Center
Texas Divorce Laws, divorcesupport.com