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In re Marriage of Schu Summary

In re Marriage of Schu published December 6, 2016



Factual Background


The Court of Appeal held in In re Marriage of Schu that misconduct in the form of domestic violence was relevant to whether to award Wife spousal support.  In that case, Wife had three children with Husband.  Husband was oftentimes out of the country.  Wife started to engage in a sexual relationship with one of their children’s friends when the friend was only a child.  Wife provided alcohol for the children and contributed to a sexualized atmosphere. The sexual relationship with one of the children’s friends lasted until the child went on to college.  When the relationship was on the verge of exposure, Wife terrorized her daughter to keep the information secret.  Wife eventually pleaded no contest to seven counts of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor and was sentenced to six years in prison.


Husband and Wife later separated and Wife requested spousal support.


Trial Court’s Order


The trial court found support was unwarranted under Family Code section 4320, subdivision (i), (m), (n), and (k).  Wife appealed. 


Decision on Appeal


On appeal, Wife argued the court improperly considered the parties’ fault when determining spousal support.  The Court of Appeal did not agree.  While dissolutions may be “no fault,” there was an element of fault in the award of spousal support.  Indeed, section 4320 provides the court shall consider domestic violence when fashioning a support award. 


In this case, Wife’s conduct unquestionably rose to the level of domestic violence.  Her characterizations of the events as a mere extramarital affair and refusing to engage in sex were a gross underreporting of the true nature of the events.  The Court of Appeal, rather, found Wife physically and emotionally abused her children to facilitate molesting a child.  Under the circumstances, a trial court could conclude Wife was not entitled to support. 

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