How to Make Changes to Existing Spousal and Child Support Orders in California

Getting a divorce can involve many layers. In most divorce cases, key issues like alimony (spousal support) and child support continue after the divorce papers are signed and finalized. As time goes on, there’s often a need to make a change to those orders because of changes in life. Ongoing orders for issues like spousal support and child support can be updated by either party for a number of reasons. 

Let’s take a closer look at what you need to know about making modifications to spousal and child support orders in California.

What is Spousal Support and what leads to changes of it?

In your divorce case, one party may be required to pay spousal support (financial assistance that recognizes the contributions of a partner to the marriage) to the other partner for a duration of time. The amount of support paid can vary greatly from case to case depending on many factors that can change over time, such as the income of the parties or the size of their assets. It can also be modified after your divorce is finalized due to a variety of factors that we’ll discuss later in this post. 

Keep in mind, it’s important to have a lawyer with a track record of courtroom victories and negotiated divorce settlements. 

Types of Spousal Support in California

In California, there are two types of spousal support: temporary spousal support and post-divorce spousal support.

Temporary Spousal Support

This is support that is paid after separation but before the divorce is finalized. Temporary spousal support considers the parties’ incomes and is based on an existing state or county formula, depending on the county in which the request for support is filed. In some instances, spousal support may consider earning capacities. Other considerations include current tax status and tax deductions.

Temporary spousal support exists only during the separation period. Once the divorce is decided, post-divorce spousal support typically replaces the temporary order.

Post-Divorce Spousal Support

Post-divorce spousal support can either be paid for a specific length of time or indefinitely, in some cases. It’s up to the court to decide after considering all the factors. It’s crucial to your success to employ a lawyer who knows the courts and the specific judge and can work for your interests during the proceedings. When it comes to post-divorce spousal support, the court will likely consider these factors:

  • The income of each party
  • The length of the marriage
  • The standard of living during the marriage
  • The specific needs of each party
  • The age and health of each party
  • Each spouse’s ability to be self-supporting
  • The financial resources of each party
  •  The liabilities of each party
  •  Each party’s tax consequences
  • The contribution of each party to domestic duties
  • The contribution of each party to the education or training of the other party
  • Impact of the custodial parent’s employment on the needs of the minor children
  • Domestic violence during the marriage

How to Modify Spousal Support

To reduce or increase spousal support, you can negotiate directly with your spouse/former spouse or formally ask the court to modify the original spousal support order. It’s important to know that just because you seek a modification to the spousal support order doesn’t guarantee that you will receive it. In most cases, the court will agree to modify support if there is a change in circumstances that affect the support that is owed. The most common instances for a modification of spousal support include:

  • A change in income for either party
  • A change in assets for either party
  • A change is debts for either party
  • Hardships suffered by either party
  • Changes in tax consequences for either party
  • Retirement of either party

What is Child Support and what leads to changes of it?

If you have children, an agreement will need to be reached with the other party for custody and visitation. This custody and visitation arrangement will play an important factor in the calculation of child support (the financial support provided by one parent to the other parent for their children). Initially, parents are encouraged to work together to determine what’s best for their children, but sometimes an agreement cannot be reached. In this instance, it’s vital to have a family law lawyer with expertise in establishing child support orders with the court. It is highly recommended that you have a lawyer on your side to help navigate the process and protect the interests of you and your children.

Child support orders are typically issued for a standard length of time and usually terminate when the child either reaches the age of 18 (19 if the child is still in high school living with a parent), marries or dies.

Following the initial child support order issued during your divorce, you may need to modify the order over the months and years as things change. Since child support can last for many years, it’s important to revisit the order every few years to make sure it’s current and beneficial to both parties, even if there have been no major changes.

How is Child Support Determined in California?

California law states that children have the right to live at the same standard as the wealthier parent. Child support is determined by a formula by the state or county, depending on where it was filed. When determining the amount owed to one party from another for child support, California courts generally consider these factors:

  • The number of children
  • Amount of time each parent spends with the children
  • Each party’s income or earning potential
  • Cost of health insurance paid by the parents
  • Tax filing status and deductions of each party
  • Special hardship circumstances like high medical bills

The court will make a ruling on which parent is to pay, and the amount of the payment on a monthly basis. The court has little discretion to deviate from the state/county formula but does have wide discretion on what factors determine the final amount ordered. Therefore, it’s important to have a lawyer looking out for your well-being.

How to Modify Child Support in California

When it’s time to make a modification to the child support order, you can reach an agreement with your spouse/former spouse. If you’re unable to, then you will need to convince the court that circumstances have changed since the original order. This can include:

  • A change in income for either party
  • A change in assets for either party
  • A change in debts for either party
  •  A change in the amount of time each parent spends with the children.
  • Changes in the child’s financial needs, like medical expenses that were not present when the initial support order was issued by the court
  • Hardships suffered by either party
  •  A change in the tax filing status and deductions of either party
  • Retirement of either party

Finding a Lawyer to Help You Modify Spousal Support and Child Support Orders

Look for a family law team that has experienced lawyers who know the ins and outs of divorce, child custody, alimony and child support orders. The firm you choose should have experience dealing with everyone from parents living a middle-class lifestyle to those who are exceptionally high earners. The firm you choose should also understand how important it is to take action when modifications are needed. While modifications can’t be issued after the fact, they can be retroactive to the date of filing for the modification, and you could receive money back. So, getting the modification in and filed as soon as there is a drop in income could really help out in the long term.