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Modifying California Child Support Orders – In re Marriage of Webber and Chen

Things often change for divorcing spouses over the years after they split. Life happens:  they may change jobs, move to different homes, remarry, and have more kids. Sometimes those changes will be significant enough to warrant altering arrangements made after the divorce, including the amount of any child support payments. As California’s Sixth District Court of Appeals recently explained, however, the person seeking the child support modification bears the burden of proving a sufficient change in circumstances.

toddler-and-mom-feet-1442011-mHusband filed for divorce from Wife in 2001, roughly a year after she gave birth to the couple’s first child. In 2012, a court ordered Husband to pay Wife nearly $1,300 per month in child support. The judge found that Husband was making approximately $16,000 per month in wages, salary, and other income. Husband later sought to reduce the payment amounts in January 2013, saying that he had since lost his job and that a bank had begun foreclosure proceedings on his home.

Husband said his current income was less than $7,000 per month, working for his own real estate company, and that he was thousands of dollars in debt and had $9,800 in monthly expenses. He also later admitted receiving $16,500 in severance payments from his former employer. Husband further argued that $2,250 per month in rental income that had been attributed to him was, in fact, money that went to his business. He said that money was used to pay business expenses and that he didn’t make any money off of the income.

In August 2013, a trial court denied Husband’s request to modify the child support payments. The court said Husband hadn’t produced enough evidence to show that the modification was warranted.

The Sixth District affirmed the decision on appeal. The Court explained that child support determinations are made based on each party’s income and, at a trial court’s discretion, their individual earning capacity. “The party seeking the modification bears the burden of showing that circumstances have changed such that modification is warranted,” the Court said. In this case, the Court found that the evidence showed that Husband continued to earn significant income from his former employer in severance after he was laid off, and that he also received income from other sources.

The Court found that the severance pay was slightly higher than disclosed by Husband. It also said he failed to submit any evidence showing that the $2,250 monthly rental income attributed to him actually went to his company. Meanwhile, the Court said Husband gave a series of “vague responses” to inquiries about his role in the company, how his current $1,000 per week salary was calculated, and where the company’s income was coming from. “[I]t would be impossible for the trial court to assess whether the amount Webber was paying himself from his own company reflected his true income from the company,” the Court said.

As a result, the Court affirmed the decision denying Husband’s request for child support modification.

If you’re considering seeking a divorce in California, contact San Jose divorce lawyer John S. Yohanan. With more than 30 years of experience, Mr. Yohanan is an accomplished family law attorney who has helped a number of clients resolve a wide variety of issues – including those related to child support – on optimal terms. Call our office at (408) 297-0700 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.

Related blog posts:

Enforcing, Modifying California Support Orders After Moving out of State – In re Marriage of Haugh

The ‘Clean Hands’ Requirement in California Child Support Cases – In re Marriage of Boswell

Adult Child Support and College Expenses in California Divorce Cases – In re Marriage of Rosenfeld and Gross