Q. I was at our first court hearing last week requesting child and spousal
support. My husband's attorney asked the judge to give me a "Gavron
Warning". The judge said he would consider at a future hearing, but
I don't understand what this meant. The judge did order my husband
to pay child and spousal support. What do I do if this comes up again?
What Are Gavron Warnings?
Gavron warnings deal with the question of when a supported spouse may be
expected to become partially or totally self-sufficient, so that they
can no longer be expected to rely on a former spouse for economic support.
At some point the entitlement to be supported usually ends.
Where the court intends that party to become self-supporting by a given
date, it generally must first give that person advance warning.
Marriage of Gavron (1988) 203 Cal.App.3d 705 is the case which first articulated this policy.
This advance notice is now called the Gavron Warning. It does not impact
This represents a trend in the law away from a rule which once entitled
a spouse (typically women) to lifelong alimony to a right to receive spousal
support for only so long as necessary to become self-supporting. It applies
equally to men and women, and to domestic partners. There is no question
that this trend has gained legislative acceptance, and in 2000
Family Code section 4330 was enacted. It provides in part:
"(b) When making an order for spousal support, the court may advise
the recipient of support that he or she should make reasonable efforts
to assist in providing for his or her support needs, taking into account
the particular circumstances considered by the court pursuant to
Section 4320, unless, in the case of a marriage of long duration as provided for in
Section 4336, the court decides this warning is inadvisable."
Note that this statute states the court "may advise" the support
recipient to make reasonable efforts to assist in supporting themselves.
This means it is up to a judge to decide at any given stage in any given
case when and whether or not to give the warning. One of the factors that
the court must consider is the length of the marriage.
Gavron Warnings in Long Term Marriages
Family Code section 4336 defines a marriage of long duration as 10 years or more. There are cases
that have decided that this 10 year rule is not inflexible, and that marriages
of less than ten years may qualify for this protection where the facts
warrant it (i.e., disability, domestic violence, the parties' respective ages).
The effect of the
Gavron decision is to require that fair advance notice in fact be given before
a court can properly terminate or reduce spousal support as of a specified
future date. The idea is that a supported spouse should not be punished
for failing to meet the court's unrevealed expectation that they would
become self-sufficient - absent this required advance notice it is judicial
error to abruptly terminate an alimony order because of a failure to make
good faith efforts to become self-supporting.
However, that notice need not be express - although it usually is. For
instance, your husband's attorney was competently (but aggressively)
representing your husband by asking the court early on to give you an
express warning. He or she will probably ask again at every future hearing
until the judge finally does give you the Gavron admonition. That warning
need not be in any magic formula: It merely needs to clearly tell the
supported spouse that they are expected to become self-supporting. The
classic language is contained in the
FL-180 Judgment of Annulment, Legal Separation or Dissolution form and reads: "It is the goal of this state that each party will make
reasonable good faith efforts to become self supporting as provided for
in Family Code section 4320. The failure to make reasonable good faith
efforts maybe one of the factors considered by the court as a basis for
modifying or terminating spousal or partner support."
How About Gavron Admonitions in Short Marriages?
Except in short marriages of less than 10 years, most judges will not issue
Gavron warnings early on because during the early divorce process it is
not reasonable that suddenly a homemaker should become self-supporting.
At the time a Judgment of Dissolution or Legal Separation is entered,
however, and possibly except in cases of very lengthy marriages lasting
20 years or more (or where the parties are too old to be expected to retrain),
most judges will give the Gavron Warning.
Additionally, Gavron language is often found in Marital Termination Agreements
(also known as MSA's for 'marital settlement agreements').
Whether the language is included in the settlement agreements is a matter
of negotiation between the parties. As a recipient you want to resist
it. As a payor spouse, you want to insist upon it. The longer the marriage,
the less reasonable it is to include such language. For instance, when
I represent women over the age of 50 with marriages in excess of 10-15
years, I counsel my client not to permit it - however, the reality is
that by the end of a case, except perhaps in very long marriages, judges
are going to give the admonition. On the other hand, if I am representing
the high earner spouse, I always argue for its inclusion. This is one
of those subtle areas where having the right attorney for you can make
a huge difference in your future security. However, as you may have noted
above the language has become so standard now that it is included in the
FL-180 Judgment form and be used for or against you even if you never
read that piece of paper (one you don't sign).
In answer to your question what to do when this comes up again, urge the
court that this is too soon and too early, and not reasonable given that
you have devoted your married life to child-rearing and to helping your
client develop the career that you both once believed would support the
family until retirement and ultimately death.
This is just an overview of the Gavron admonition. Visit us here for more
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Author: T.W. Arnold III