Things often change after a divorce, whether it’s a new career, a new relationship, or a new place to live. Not all of those changes, however, are significant enough to justify tweaking a person’s spousal or child support obligations. As California’s Fourth District Court of Appeals recently explained, the burden is on the person asking for the modification to show that there’s been a material change in circumstances to justify it.
Husband and Wife separated in 2009, ending their four-year marriage. Husband worked as a real estate broker during the course of the marriage, while Wife stayed home and cared for the couple’s two kids. The spouses eventually entered into a marital settlement agreement, resolving issues related to the divorce. They agreed to share joint custody of the children, and Husband pledged to pay Wife $3,500 per month in child support. The agreement stated that it was based on the assumption that Husband would be making about $260,000 per year and that Wife would have the kids about 80 percent of the time.
Husband went back to court about 10 months later, this time asking a judge to reduce his child support obligation. He explained that his income was now projected to be much less than expected. Husband said the $260,000 figure was based on his expected commission on the sale of a large promissory note. That sale fell through, according to Husband, and he wound up receiving a much smaller commission. Husband said he’d since taken a new job with an $80,000 annual salary.
The trial court denied Husband’s request, finding that he hadn’t shown a material change in circumstances sufficient to justify altering the child support award. The Fourth District agreed on appeal.
“There are no rigid guidelines for judging whether circumstances have sufficiently changed to warrant a child support modification,” the appeals court explained. Instead, “the determination is made on a case-by-case basis and may properly rest on fluctuations in need or ability to pay.” The Court also acknowledged that some judges have found that the nonoccurrence of an event – like completing certain job training or education – might constitute a change of circumstances for spousal support purposes. In this case, however, Husband was trying to reduce his child support obligation. “Spousal support awards frequently provide for the reduction or elimination of the obligation based on the supported spouse’s eventual ability to become self-supporting,” the Court observed. “Child support on the other hand continues and frequently increases until the child either dies, becomes emancipated, or reaches the age of majority.”
Finally, the Court noted that there remained some question about what Husband was and could be bringing in from other business ventures. As a result, it said he failed to show that the loss of the commission alone was enough to justify reducing the child support obligation.
If you’re considering a divorce or are grappling with child support and other issues in California, contact San Jose divorce attorney 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.
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