Termination of Alimony on Remarriage or Death

Author(s)

Danny Adams

Details

Faculty editor: Paul Horton
Publication: Contemporary Legal Issues
Volume: 22
Issue:
Start Page: 511
Month: December
Year: 2015
Type: Article

Abstract

The California Family Code, in section 4337, plainly states that a supporting ex-spouse is relieved of his alimony obligations when he dies, his ex-spouse dies, or his ex-spouse remarries. Unless the divorcing parties have expressly agreed to extend alimony payments beyond death or supported-spouse remarriage, termination of the alimony obligation is self-executing and automatic; invocation of the divorce court’s assistance is unnecessary. The party seeking to avoid the terms of section 4337 bears the burden of showing—some courts say by clear and convincing evidence —those terms do not apply. Failure of the supported spouse (or, presumably, her estate if the check isn’t returned for want of a forwarding address) to notify the supporting spouse of her remarriage or death probably gives rise to his entitlement to reimbursement of payments made after the terminating event.
The California statutes on termination (or not) of alimony on death or remarriage have remained unchanged in substance for at least the last 45 years. Although the terms of the alimony statute seem clear enough most of the time for most parties and their family lawyers to negotiate into or around, section 4337 has failed to resolve all potential problems in its interpretation. In this essay I recount how the courts have dealt with issues of “alimony,” “agreement,” “death of spouse,” and “remarriage of supported spouse” that the alimony statute has left unresolved.