The Grounds for Modifying a Divorce Decree in California are Limited
Circumstances change. This is what leads many people to file for divorce, and it is what causes some people to seek to modify the terms of their divorce as well. While it is possible to modify certain aspects of a divorce decree in California, the grounds for requesting a modification are limited, and this makes it especially important to approach the divorce process with as much foresight as possible.
What Aspects of a Divorce Decree are Eligible for Modification in California?
1. Child Custody and Visitation (Parenting Time)
The California Courts website states that divorced parents, “can make new agreements about the custody/visitation and support of their children at any time.” While this is generally true, it assumes that (i) both parents are on the same page with regard to the modification desired, and (ii) the proposed modification reflects the best interests of the parents’ children. All custody determinations are subject to this “best interests” standard, or proposed modification(s) that are solely for the convenience of the parents will be challenged if they appear to be disadvantageous to the children involved as to the relationship the child has with he parent.
When only one parent wishes to modify a custody order, that parent must file a “Request for Order” to formally request the modification. In the absence of an agreement between the parents, the California Courts will only grant a modification if there has been a significant change in circumstances that requires a modification in order to protect the children’s best interests.
2. Child Support
Since child support calculations are based upon a statutory formula in California, a request to modify child support must also be based upon a demonstrable change in circumstances. The one-of-the-few exceptions is if the parents’ current child support amount was calculated at less than the “guideline” calculation, which only occurs under limited circumstances. Examples of changed circumstances that may justify a motion to modify child support in California include:
- A change in one or both parents’ income;
- A parent’s loss of his or her job;
- A parent’s incarceration (subject to certain exceptions);
- A parent has a child in another relationship;
- The parents’ custody order has been modified;
- The child’s financial needs regarding child care, health care, or education have changed; and,
- Changes in the factors used to calculate child support under California law.
3. Spousal Support (Alimony)
Since initial spousal support calculations must be based upon California’s alimony factors, requests to modify spousal support must reflect due consideration of these factors as well. While the California courts have held that the paying spouse’s retirement is an event that can justify a request for modification of alimony, retirement is not the only scenario in which a motion to modify spousal support will be granted. As with child custody and child support, if you need to seek modification of your current obligation to pay child support, you should discuss your options with a local family law attorney before you make any changes.
Making Informed, Long-Term Decisions During the Divorce Process
Due to the limits on modifying the terms of a divorce – and the potential that you and your former spouse will not be on the same page when you want to seek a modification – it is important to devote the time and effort necessary to make informed, long-term decisions during the divorce process. While some changes cannot be anticipated, thinking ahead as far as possible will reduce the changes that you will need to seek a modification after your divorce.
Contact Law Office of Renkin & Associates in North County, San Diego
Law Office of Renkin & Associates is a family law firm located in North County, San Diego. Our firm was founded by Richard M. Renkin, a divorce attorney and Certified Family Law Specialist who has been practicing law in California for more than 30 years. If you are contemplating a divorce, or if you need to inquire about modifying the terms of your divorce, you can call 619-299-7100 or contact us online to request a confidential initial case evaluation.