As anyone who has been through a divorce knows, life can change quickly. Sometimes, these changes affect a person's ability to pay spousal or child support. Conversely, some changes may positively affect a person's finances, leaving them no longer in need of spousal support. In either case, you and your Los Angeles family law attorney can petition the court for modifications to the existing child and/or spousal support orders.
Whether through a negotiated settlement or ordered by a family court judge, many divorces in California will involve paying spousal or child support, or even both.
Spousal and child support payments will be created by a family court order. If the spouse who has been ordered to pay fails to meet their legal obligations, they could harsh penalties.
There are situations where a change in circumstances occurs and the court ordered spousal or child support award is no longer adequate. Likewise, some spouses find themselves in a situation where they can no longer pay the amount that was ordered by the court due to loss of employment.
We are often asked what will happen if you need to seek an increase or reduction or increase in your court ordered support award?
Some orders can be modified by a California family law court after a final judgment in your divorce was made. The most common post-judgment order modifications include child custody and visitation orders, child support orders, and spousal support orders.
This article will address how to modify spousal or child support after a divorce in California. Our Los Angeles divorce and family law lawyers are providing a review below
Modifying Child Support
In California, child support calculations are determined by using statutory formulas. If you need answers about child support payments, it would be wise to consult with a family law attorney in order to determine if a modification is warranted.
If the divorcing couple has children, the court will make a final decision on child support orders before granting a divorce. Courts use an algorithm to determine child support requirements. This equation considers all the following factors:
- The gross income of each parent
- Child care costs
- Physical custody percentages
- Payroll deductions for each parent, including insurance, union fees, and retirement
- Income tax deductions that each parent can claim
Parents can plug these figures into a calculator on the State of California website to get an estimate of what child support obligations will look like.
Of course, these figures are subject to changes, and child support orders can change accordingly. However, the change in child support is not automatic and does not take effect until after the judge signs the order.
If the parents can agree to a new amount outside of court, the process of changing a child custody order is relatively simple. However, parents will need to get the judge to order any changes if they cannot agree.
A judge may change child support obligations if any of the factors in the calculation change. Other circumstances may also trigger a modification in child support, such as the incarceration of one parent, if one parent has another child with someone else, or if the needs of a child change significantly.
Modifying Spousal Support
Spousal support (alimony) obligations can increase and decrease also due to a change in circumstances after a divorce. However, spousal support is not based on a statutory formula.
The primary purpose of alimony is to allow a spouse to maintain the lifestyle they enjoyed during the marriage. This means alimony awards take into consideration many different factors.
These include the incomes of both spouses, length of the marriage, spouse's earning potential, and a spouse's ability to become self-supporting. A request to modify spousal support is examined based on these factors.
Since spousal support is primarily focused on the standard of living during the marriage, an increase in one spouse's income is will not typically justify an increase in alimony. However, if the spouse who has been ordered to pay alimony lost their job or they were remarried, then these type of changes could justify a request for modification.
Reasons a Court Will Lower or End Spousal Support Orders
As stated, unlike with child support, California courts do not have a specific algorithm they use to calculate spousal support. The idea behind spousal support is that the receiving spouse should be able to maintain their previous lifestyle for a reasonable amount of time following the divorce.
In order to decide how much the spouse needs and for how long, courts consider factors such as:
- The length of the marriage
- The earning potential of both partners at the time of the order
- The future ability of each spouse to support themselves given the right education or training
- The cost of the lifestyle the couple enjoyed during the relationship
As with child support, courts only consider changing spousal support orders when one of the original factors changes substantially.
For example, if the paying ex-spouse loses their job, the court will consider lowering or ending the spousal support requirements. Another factors includes a spouse receiving a raise or they have other new sources of income, or there is a military deployment.
Furthermore, if the receiving ex-spouse completes training and gets a well-paying job, this changes the calculation for the court.
Grounds for Increasing Spousal Support
If an ex-spouse seeks to increase spousal support payments, they must prove one of these things to the court:
- The original spousal support order did not sufficiently cover the spouse's needs, as defined in California law
- The amount they need to maintain that lifestyle has changed since the time the last agreement or order was made
Once the seeking party clears one of those bars, they must then prove that the other party bears the legal responsibility for this change. A Los Angeles family law attorney can help you determine if your case meets the necessary criteria.
When Courts Cannot Change Spousal Support Orders
The law gives courts a lot of power to increase, decrease, or stop spousal support payments as they see fit.
However, there are some circumstances in which the court cannot make changes. For example, if both parties agreed to a non-modifiable agreement in the divorce, the court will not be able to make changes.
Furthermore, the court cannot extend a spousal support agreement that has a specified end date. Finally, if the spousal support order was made in another state, the ex-couple may need to take the matter up with that state's courts.
Contact the Family Law Attorneys at Furman & Zavatsky
It's important to note that a spouse who is responsible for paying child support or alimony, your legal obligations will continue as originally established until the family court issues a modified award.
If you are in a situation where you are now unable to meet these obligations, you need to speak with a lawyer to learn how to seek a modification.
The State of California recommends acting quickly if you need any change to child support or spousal support orders. Again the orders remain the same until the judge signs off on a change, so delaying this process could cost money in the long run.
If you need information about pursuing modification of child support or spousal support in Los Angeles County, we can help you.
Furman & Zavatsky are Los Angeles divorce and family law attorneys located in Los Angeles County at 15821 Ventura Blvd #690 Encino, CA 91436. Contact our office for a free case consultation at (818) 528-3471.