California Court Denies Father’s Request to Modify Child Support Award

In most divorce cases involving children, the family court will order the amount of monthly child support to be paid to the supported spouse. That amount will remain in effect for as long as the court decides, or until one party can show a “change of circumstances” sufficient to modify the order. Under California law, there are no official guidelines governing when circumstances have changed enough to warrant a modification. The determination is typically made on a case-by-case basis and often rests on one’s ability to pay or one’s financial status. Child support is an extremely important issue in any divorce or separation case. An experienced San Diego family law attorney would be able to analyze your situation and determine the financial options for your family and you.

Courts often step in when a parent fails to make support payments or alleges that he or she is unable to meet the obligation. The California Family Code authorizes a court to require a parent who alleges that the parent’s default in a child or family support order is due to the parent’s unemployment to submit a list of at least five different places the parent has applied for employment. This is known as a “seek-work” order. In a recent California case, the ex-husband and father claimed that the court should not have issued a seek-work order and that the actual form was arbitrary. He also alleged that the family court abused its discretion by denying his request to modify the child support order.

Here, back in 2011, the father agreed to pay the mother $1,000 in monthly child support. Some time later, he attempted to modify the support order, citing a change of circumstances. The court denied the request, finding the change to be only temporary in nature. In 2013, after defaulting on his child support payments, the father requested another downward modification of child support, attributing the change of circumstances to a back injury and the poor economy. The court issued a seek-work order, requiring the father to conduct five job searches per week, among other details. Ultimately, the court found the father’s job search efforts to be deficient and denied the modification request.

The father appealed. The California court of appeals reviewed Section 4505 of the Family Code and concluded that the lower court had a reasonable basis for issuing the seek-work order, and it appropriately crafted a form suitable to the situation. The court pointed out that although Section 4505 does not require a form, the section does not preclude one either. Based on the record below, the court found that the father’s efforts to find work were deficient.

The court next ruled that the father’s failure to establish his earning capacity, in accordance with Section 4058 of the Family Code, prevented the trial court from determining whether a material change in circumstances warranted a modification of child support. Therefore, the court affirmed the denial of the father’s request without prejudice, enabling the father to re-file the request after completing the appropriate job searches.

Here, although this is an unpublished decision, the underlying legal principles may serve to inform later cases in this jurisdiction. The father is not without recourse at this point, but he is required to follow the court’s instructions in order to hope to receive relief from his child support obligations. In any case involving family law issues, it is extremely important to seek the assistance of an attorney with extensive experience handling such cases. For more than 20 years, Roy M. Doppelt has been representing clients in child support and other family law matters in San Diego and throughout Southern California. For a free consultation with a dedicated and experienced family law lawyer, contact Doppelt and Forney, APLC through the law firm’s website or give us a call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).

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