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Modifying an order for spousal support in California

Many people who receive or who are ordered to pay spousal support in a divorce in California run into unexpected life events that necessitate revising the terms of the order. The first question people in this position ask is, can an order for spousal support be changed? The second question is, how do I do it?

The answer to the first question is a qualified "yes." The easiest way to modify an order for spousal support is through the agreement of the parties. If, however, the parties are unable to agree on the modification, the dispute must be presented to the court for resolution. In this situation, the answer to the second question becomes very involved.

The general rule is that spousal support may be either increased or decreased if one party can demonstrate that "changed circumstances" justify the change. "Changed circumstances" can take many forms. For the spouse who is ordered to pay alimony, his or her income may have declined, or an illness or accident may have significantly reduced earning capacity. A change in the other spouse's circumstances may also justify a reduction. For example, a divorced wife who is receiving spousal support may re-marry and no longer need the support, or a receiving spouse may not be making a good faith effort to become self-supporting.

A spouse who is receiving alimony may likewise decide that changed circumstances justify an increase in the amount of alimony that is being paid. The payor spouse may obtain a new job with significantly increased compensation or receive a large inheritance that justifies an increase alimony. More commonly, the receiving spouse experiences a severe drop in income due to loss of a job or a reduction in compensation.

Anyone who feels that the level of alimony is either unfairly high or unfairly low may wish to consult a divorce attorney.

Source: California Courts, "Changing (or Ending) a Spousal/Partner Support Order," accessed on Oct. 23, 2017

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