I have a spousal support order in California. What is a "Gavron Warning"?

The idea of the “Gavron Warning” came from the case In Re Marriage of Gavron, (1988) 203 Cal.App.3d 705, 250 Cal.Rptr. 148.  In this case the parties separated in 1976 after a 25 year marriage.  Subsequently, the husband was ordered to pay $1,100 per month of alimony.  He did so until 1981, when he asked the court to reduce support to $550 and then terminate entirely after one year.  This initial request was denied.  However, the husband tried again in 1986.  This time the court ordered that support would continue for five months and then terminate.  The wife appealed and reversed the trial court’s order.  The appellate court held that because the wife was not warned in prior orders to become self-sufficient, she could not be penalized years later because the court did not tell her to make efforts.  In essence, as the court argued, an apparent lack of judicial foresight in not focusing her on the expectation to become self-sufficient meant that the court could not cut her support now.

Because of this case, the courts will frequently issue a warning to the supported spouse.  In fact, the language for the warning is found on some of the judicial counsel forms.  For example, on the Judicial Counsel form “Judgment (Family Law)” (form FL-180), the following language is included:

“NOTICE: 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 may be one of the factors considered by the court as a basis for modifying or terminating spousal or partner support.”

So, the lesson for support payers is to make sure that such language is included in any spousal support order.  If it is not, it may be harder to reduce income later if the supported spouse refuses to make good faith efforts to become self-sufficient.  When I am representing a support payer, I always ask the judge for a Gavron Warning and I almost always include it in written stipulations.  I have also been known to simply file and serve a written Gavron Warning to the supported party myself at the beginning of the case so that there is no question that the supported party has been warned.

When I am representing a supported spouse, naturally I will not bring the Gavron Warning up.  However, if opposing counsel wants it in an order, there is no legal basis to resist it.  The moral for the supported spouse is not to count on the alimony as a permanent means of support.  I frequently refer the supported spouse for vocational counseling to assist with re-entering a career.  I get as much alimony as I can, but encourage the prudence of planning for self-reliance.  After all, no one knows for sure what the future holds.  Not only could the support payer try to reduce alimony, it could simply terminate by means of death.  Any changed circumstance such as unemployment or disability could force a reduction or termination in support too.  The best advice is to use the support as a life preserver to stay afloat in the short run, but take steps immediately to be ready for when the support may no longer be available.

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