If you want a court to change an existing child or spousal support award, you have to prove that there has been a change of circumstances to justify it. This means presenting real evidence to the court, as California’s Sixth District Court of Appeals recently explained.
Mother and Father separated in 2011, following more than 18 years of marriage. They had three minor children at the time. When the couple eventually divorced, they entered into a stipulated agreement providing that Father would pay Mother more than $4,000 per month in combined spousal and child support. The agreement stated that Father was making about $12,300 per month as a systems engineer, while Mother was earning about $600 a month as a part-time French instructor and tutor.
Father went back to court less than a year later, asking a judge to reduce his support obligation. He explained that he was losing his job, which had been a three-year assignment, and was looking for a new gig. Father also said he’d lost about $63,000 in stock market investments the previous year. The trial court responded by reducing his support obligations to zero, at least on a temporary basis, and said it would retain jurisdiction to reconsider if and when Husband found a job. The court ordered both parents to make good-faith efforts to find work and to notify each other within 48 hours of landing a job.
When Mother returned to court in 2014, she alleged that Father had taken a job and was making at least $15,000 a month. She said she learned about the situation when her kids’ dentist informed Mother that the children were covered by Husband’s new employer’s dental plan. Mother also told the court that she was now making less than $2,000 in three part-time jobs. Father, on the other hand, denied having taken a new job. He also accused Mother of refusing to pay taxes that they owed in France and said shouldering that burden alone had drained his savings. The trial court sided with Mother. It reinstated the original support award and made the obligation retroactive.
On appeal, however, the Sixth District said the trial court jumped the gun. Specifically, the trial judge decided to impute income to Father before considering any evidence about what his actual income was at the time of the decision. The California Department of Child Support Services said it had confirmed that Husband was employed and was earning more than $15,000 per month. DCSS also said Father’s employer was withholding part of his paychecks for support purposes. But neither DCSS nor Mother presented any evidence to the court to back these claims, according to the Sixth District. “Once Father disputed the allegation that he was working, it was incumbent on Mother and DCSS to bring forth evidence to prove their contentions,” the Court said.
As a result, the Sixth District remanded the case back to the trial judge for further proceedings.
If you’re considering a divorce or are grappling with support and other issues in California, contact San Jose child support 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 marital disputes. Call our office at (408) 297-0700 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.
Related blog posts: