Many of the cases that we discuss on this blog concern issues related to whether or not a spousal or child support award should be modified based on changes in circumstances since the time that a court set the amount of the support. Such a change has to be substantial in order for a court to alter the support award. As California’s First District Court of Appeals recently explained, courts often look at whether the spouse seeking the change should have known about the circumstances at the time of the original award.
Before Husband and Wife divorced in 2010, they entered into a marital settlement agreement under which they determined how their property would be split and custody over their two children would be handled. The couple agreed to share custody of the kids, and Husband agreed to pay Wife $11,000 per month in child support. When a trial court approved the agreement, it noted that Wife was bringing in about $900 per month and Husband was earning about $42,000 per month. The court also observed that Husband had agreed to pay Wife an extra $3 million over 10 years, as well as to transfer to her property worth more than $900,000, a life insurance policy, and a vacation timeshare.
Two years later, Wife returned to court to request that a trial judge increase the monthly support obligation. She argued that Husband’s income had increased since the time that the trial court approved the settlement agreement. Rejecting the motion, the trial judge said any increase in Husband’s income didn’t qualify as a change in circumstances warranting a change in the child support payments.
Wife said the original agreement was based on a fraudulent tax return, showing that he was earning $1.2 million per year. Instead, Wife said the income was more like $3.3 million per year. The trial court noted, however, that a 2008 joint tax return signed by both spouses showed that the couple had nearly $2.7 million in income for the year. As a result, the court said Wife should have been aware that Husband’s income was higher than $1.2 million. It also said the change from $2.7 million to $3.3 million wasn’t enough to warrant increasing the child support obligation.
Affirming the decision on appeal, the First District agreed that Wife failed to establish a change of circumstances. The Court stressed in particular that the trial court had found that the current child support amount was sufficient to meet the children’s needs. “The record contains [Wife]’s declaration that the children could purchase more items while residing with [Husband], but the uncontested evidence was that the children enjoyed roughly the same lifestyle at each parent’s home,” the Court said. “The children’s vacations and activities were the same at both homes and both parents had similar homes and lived in the same neighborhood.”
This case may concern a couple whose monthly income well exceeds that of most people in the Golden State, but the issues it covers are ones that often come up in California divorce proceedings. With more than 30 years of experience, California divorce lawyer John S. Yohanan is an accomplished family law attorney who has helped a number of clients resolve a property disposition and a wide variety of other issues on optimal terms. Call our office at (408) 297-0700 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.
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