Wednesday, April 26, 2006
C.A. Upholds Cutoff of Support Obligation to Abusive Ex-Wife
Statute Takes Precedence Over Non-Modifiability Provisions of Settlement Agreement, Sixth District Rules
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
A state law authorizing denial of support to someone who is convicted of abusing the supporting spouse takes precedence over a marital settlement agreement limiting the circumstances under which the support award can be modified, the Sixth District Court of Appeal has ruled.
The justices Monday affirmed Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Marcel Poche’s order terminating Gerald Cauley’s $5,250-per-month support obligation to his former wife.
Eileen Cauley was convicted of aggravated stalking in Florida, where Gerald Cauley moved after his marriage ended, and to which Eileen Cauley was extradited, and was placed on five years probation in 2004. She was subsequently charged with a new count of aggravated stalking and with violating conditions of her probation, including one that required her to stay away from Gerald Cauley, his new wife, and his stepson.
In April 2004, while the original Florida charges were pending, a Santa Clara Superior Court judge ordered a temporary cessation in spousal support under Family Code Sec. 4325. The statute creates a rebuttable presumption in favor of denying spousal support to a person convicted of domestic violence in the preceding five years, or at any time after a dissolution petition has been filed.
At the final hearing on his petition to cut off support, in October 2004, Gerald Cauley presented evidence that his ex-wife had harassed him almost non-stop since the couple separated two years earlier. She had, among other things, ripped out plants and killed fish outside his Florida home; thrown numerous items in the bay behind his house; sprayed him and his wife with herbicide; written and e-mailed him more than 1,000 times in violation of a restraining order; and threatened him, his wife, other relatives, and his employer, conduct that continued up until two days before the court hearing.
Eileen Cauley’s attorney responded that his client, as a convicted felon with a drinking problem and no job and no training, needed money and had repeatedly called her ex-husband because she needed money.
He also argued that the support could not be cut because the only grounds for modification under the marital settlement agreement were the wife’s remarriage or cohabitation, or the husband becoming disabled.
But Justice Nathan Mihara, writing for the Court of Appeal, agreed with the trial judge that the non-modifiability clause could not, as a matter of public policy, take precedence over the statute.
California, he wrote, has a “significant public policy against domestic violence” which is furthered by cutting off spousal support in cases such as this.
“We must also emphasize that appellant’s misconduct is extremely serious and has continued despite incarceration and court orders in California and Florida,” the justice wrote. “Moreover, there is a direct connection between appellant’s misconduct and the nonmodifiable spousal support provision,” the justice added, since she used the support money to travel to Florida and keep up her campaign of harassment.
“Section 4325 embodies a legislative determination that victims of domestic violence not be required to finance their own abuse,” the justice wrote.
The case is In re Marriage of Cauley, 06 S.O.S. 2066.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company