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Divorce Reimbursement and Paying a Spouse’s Prior Support Obligations

by | Mar 1, 2024 | Child Support, Divorce

Your situation may involve circumstances where you, or your spouse, was required to pay child or spousal support for a prior spouse or children outside of the marriage.   These obligations need to be factored into the family finances during the marriage.  So, what issues might arise related to these support payments when you later decide to divorce?  In this week’s blog we consider the potential right the community may have to be reimbursed for these payments made on behalf of the obligated spouse.  We will take a look at the statute that gives rise to the possible claim, Family Code Section 915, and will address the very specific requirements to be eligible to make such a claim for reimbursement.


Family Code Section 915.  In a California divorce, there are a limited number of potential reimbursement claims that can be made.  If your situation does not fall into one of the defined categories established by statute or case law, you can not make such a claim.  Making a claim for reimbursement related to one spouse’s payment of a prior child support or spousal support obligation is one such claim supported by Family Code section 915.  Family Code 915 states in relevant part:


 “If property in the community estate is applied to the satisfaction of a child or spousal support obligation of a married person that does not arise out of the marriage, at a time when nonexempt separate income of the person is available but is not applied to the satisfaction of the obligation, the community estate is entitled to reimbursement from the person in the amount of the separate income, not exceeding the property in the community estate so applied.”


Support obligation not arising from the marriage.  The first requirement is that the spouse’s child or spousal support obligation is related to a child or spouse not of the current marriage.  This makes perfect sense.  The other clarification is that it does not make any difference if the support obligation was established or modified during the course of the present marriage.  The fact that the support order in question was adjusted or even initiated during the present marriage does not impact the right to seek a reimbursement.  If support was paid during the marriage for a child outside the marriage or a prior spouse, the first prong of the test is met.


Limitation based on having other non-exempt separate property available to pay the obligation.  This is the big hurdle to get over that will either support the claim for a reimbursement or will defeat it.  Did the spouse who had the obligation to pay the support have separate property that could have been used to cover the support obligation instead of using community funds?  If the obligated spouse had separate funds they could have used then the community has a claim to have the community funds used to be reimbursed.  As an example, if the obligated spouse has a separate bank account containing $50,000 that they kept in tact for the duration of the marriage, and during the marriage that spouse’s child support obligation totaling $30,000 is paid using community funds, under Family Code 915 the community is entitled to a reimbursement of the $30,000 since there were separate funds that could have been used to cover this separate obligation.


Net result of the reimbursement claim.  When the community has a claim for reimbursement it is important to understand the net impact of such a claim.  In the case where the community is owed $30,000, the net impact is that the one spouse would owe the other one-half of the amount.  When $30,000 in community dollars is used to pay one spouse’s debt, really it is $15,000 from each spouse that has been used, so while the community is owed $30,000, essentially the one spouse owes the other $15,000.  


If you or your spouse was required to pay child or spousal support during the course of your marriage, a claim may stand if community funds were used to pay it when separate funds were otherwise available to do so.  To assess such a claim, information needs to be gathered about how much community funds were expended and what separate funds, if any, might otherwise have been available which should have first been used to cover the obligation.  As you move forward with your divorce it is valuable to get educated on the potential reimbursement claims you or your spouse may have given the very specific reimbursement claims that have been established by statute and case law.