Whether as part of a negotiated settlement or as ordered by a judge, many California divorces involve payment of child support, spousal support, or both. In either case, child and spousal support will be formally established by court order, and the paying spouse (the “payor”) can face severe sanctions for failing to meet his or her court-ordered obligations.
For the receiving spouse (the “payee”), there is no risk of similar consequences. However, it is possible that – due to a change in circumstances – a court-ordered child support or spousal support award may suddenly become inadequate to meet his or her needs.
So, what happens if you need to seek a reduction or increase in your court-ordered support award?
Seeking Modification of Child Support or Spousal Support (or Both)
The California courts will not entertain just any request for modification. If they did, they would be inundated with requests, and divorcing spouses would face significant uncertainty from the moment they finalized their divorce. As a general rule, divorce decrees are meant to be final, and as a result California law requires material change of circumstances before for seeking modification of a child support or spousal support award.
Modifying Child Support
In California (as in other states), child support calculations are based upon a statutory formula. While there are various calculators online, if you are questioning your current child support payment, it is generally advisable to work with an experienced attorney who can help you determine if a modification is warranted. This change may be based upon factors such as:
- Loss of a job (by the payor or payee)
- Getting a raise or a taking higher-paying job (payor or payee)
- Realization of other new sources of income
- Changes in custody and visitation rights
- Military deployment
- Discovery of information withheld during the divorce
As suggested above, these changes may result in either a reduction or an increase in child support.
Modifying Spousal Support
Spousal support obligations (also referred to as “alimony”) can increase and decrease as a result of changed circumstances following a divorce as well.*
However, unlike child support, spousal support awards are not based upon a statutory formula. Rather, alimony is intended to allow the support spouse to maintain the lifestyle he or she enjoyed during the marriage for a reasonable period of time. As a result, spousal support determinations take into consideration factors such as: the spouses’ respective incomes and needs, the length of the marriage, each spouse’s current earning potential, and each spouse’s ability to become self-supporting with education or training.
Requests for modification are also assessed using these factors. However, since spousal support focuses on the standard of living during the marriage, an increase in the payor’s income post-divorce generally will not justify a request for increased alimony. On the other hand, the payor’s loss of an income source, the payee’s acquisition of a new job, the payee’s loss of a job (or, in some cases, continued inability to find a job), and the payee’s remarriage or cohabitation are all changes that can support a request for modification.
*Note that some awards may include provisions that purport to provide for non-modifiable support. These clauses are rarely as straightforward as they seem, and it is important to speak with an attorney before making any assumptions about your legal rights.
Modification Requires a New Court Order
Importantly, as the former spouse who is responsible for paying child support or alimony, your obligations continue as originally established until the court issues a modified award. As a result, if you are unable to pay, it is important that you speak with an attorney about seeking a modification right away.
Contact the Law Office of Renkin & Associates
If you have questions about seeking modification of child support or spousal support in San Diego County, we invite you to contact us for a confidential case evaluation. For more information, call 619-299-7100 or send us a message online today.
Image via Flickr by kate hiscock