Court Explains Grounds for Modifying Support Orders in California

The California Courts have the authority to impose permanent spousal and child support obligations. Merely because a support obligation is permanent does not mean it cannot be modified, however. Recently, a California Court issued a ruling in which it discussed the grounds for granting a request for a spousal support modification in a case in which it ultimately reversed the Trial Court ruling. If you need assistance with a spousal or child support issue, it is advisable to contact a San Diego family law attorney to discuss your options.

Facts of the Case

It is reported that the husband and wife married in 1999, decided to separate in 2013, and were divorced in 2016. They had three children born of the marriage; two of the children are now independent adults, while the third, a minor, has non-verbal autism and requires constant care for the duration of his life. The mother is the minor child’s primary caretaker and has primary physical custody of him.

It is alleged that pursuant to an order issued by the Trial Court, the husband was obligated to pay permanent spousal support and child support to the wife. In 2020 the husband filed a motion to reduce his support obligations on the grounds that his salary had been reduced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Trial Court ultimately granted the order, and the wife appealed.

Grounds for Modifying Support Orders

 On appeal, the Appellate Court found that there were insufficient grounds to grant the husband’s request and reversed the trial court ruling. The Appellate Court explained that child support awards rest within the discretion of the trial court and will not be overturned absent a clear abuse of discretion. With regard to spousal support orders, the Appellate Court similarly stated that Trial Court has broad discretion with regard to weighing the statutory factors set forth in Family Code Section 4320 and determining what weight to grant each factor.

The Appellate Court cautioned, however, that Trial Courts cannot be arbitrary but must exercise their discretion in accordance with the law. Additionally, Trial Courts cannot discard relevant circumstances set forth in Section 4320. Rather, they must recognize and apply each statutory factor. In the case at hand, the Appellate Court found that the trial court not only overstated the father’s expenses when making its decision to reduce his support obligations but it also failed to consider whether rental payments the father received from his girlfriend constituted annual gross income as defined by Section 4320, which is deemed relevant. Thus, it reversed the Trial Court ruling.

Speak to a Trusted California Family Law Attorney

Spousal support and child support obligations should be fair with regard to all parties involved, and if circumstances evolve that render them unjust, they may be modified. If you have concerns regarding child support or spousal support, it is smart to speak to an attorney promptly. At Doppelt and Forney APLC, our trusted San Diego family law attorneys can advise you of your rights and gather the evidence needed to help you pursue your desired outcome. You can reach us through our online form or call us at 800-769-4748 to set up a free and confidential meeting.

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