Modification of Support FAQ

Can child or spousal support orders be reduced or increased?

In general, all support orders can be modified. However, the spouses can agree that spousal support can be non-modifiable, either as to the amount or duration of the payments.

What do you have to show the judge in order to get the support order changed?

The law provides that a support order can be modified if there has been a "change of circumstances" since the current support order was made. This means that significant change in the income or expenses of either party can be a basis for a change of the support order. For example, if a man paying spousal support loses his job, he should be able to get the support order reduced until he gets another job.

I just lost my job and my wife has told me that I don't have to pay all of the support that is provided in the court papers. Is she right?

No. The only thing that changes a support order is another court order. If you cannot afford to pay the support, you must get the prior support order modified, either by a written agreement or another court order.

A common situation arises where a man has lost his job and his ex-wife has told him that he does not have to pay all of the support. Over the next several months or years the man pays less than the court order, thinking that he will not have to make up the difference. He is then presented with a bill for thousands of dollars in support arrearages, either by his ex-wife or the county.

While it might seem unfair, the man still must pay back all of the arrearages.

I am paying spousal support to my ex wife but she has just started to live with another man. Can I stop paying the spousal support? Will the judge terminate her spousal support?

As with any support order, the payments must be made until there is a new support order. If an ex-wife starts to live with another man, the ex-husband must file papers to request a modification of the spousal support order. However, just because the ex-wife is living with another man, that does not automatically result in the spousal support being ended. The law says that if the wife is cohabiting with another man she can still get spousal support if the judge is convinced that the wife still needs the support payments.

My ex-husband has just retired and has told me that he will not be paying any more support. Can he do that?

Your ex-husband will be making a big mistake if he follows through with his threat. Even if he has retired, he must still get the court to modify the order. If he fails to do so, he will end up owing you all of the support that he should have paid.

What can I do if my unemployed ex-wife wants me to pay her spousal support, even though I know she could get a job?

Your ex-wife cannot increase her spousal support simply by choosing not to work. Under the law, the amount of spousal support that the judge awards your ex-wife can be based on the income that the judge believes she could earn, even though she is currently unemployed. You might want to consider hiring a vocational expert to evaluate your ex-wife's employment background and prepare a report that summarizes employment opportunities that are available for her.

How do I get the support order modified?

You must get your former spouse to sign a formal Stipulation and Order modifying the support order. If your ex refuses to sign that document, you must file an "Order to Show Cause re Modification" with your local Superior Court.

Can I file bankruptcy on my child or spousal support obligation?

The federal bankruptcy law provides that child and spousal support orders are not dischargeable in bankruptcy. This means that your obligation to pay support continues even if you file for bankruptcy.

The Judge awarded me both child support and spousal support, but the child support has ended because our child is now an adult. Can I get my spousal support increased?

The California Child Support Guideline requires child support to be calculated before spousal support is determined. This can result in the spousal support order being less that it would be if there were no child support. For this reason, the California Family Code provides that, when child support has ended, the judge has the power to increase the spousal support. The facts in your case will determine if you will actually get such an increase.