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Modifying Spousal Support Orders

Whether you are the spouse paying support or the spouse receiving support, knowing your rights with regards to when and how a spousal support order can be modified has become increasingly important during recent months.

Material Change in Circumstances

After a judge makes a spousal support order, one or both spouses may need to change the order. If you are in this situation, you have to show that there has been a "material change in circumstances" since the spousal support order was made. This means something significant has changed since the order was made.

Temporary vs. Permanent Orders

There is a split of authority regarding the necessity of showing changed circumstances to modify a temporary spousal support order. Compare In re Marriage of Gruen (2011)191 Cal. App.4th 627 (changed circumstances required) with Marriage of Murray (2002) 101 Cal. App. 4th 581, 597 changed circumstances not required). Several California courts have held temporary spousal support may be modified without a showing of changed circumstances.

As such, awards of temporary spousal support rest within the broad discretion of the trial court and may be ordered in “any amount” subject only to the moving party's needs and the other party's ability to pay. According to Marriage of Tong & Samson (2011) 197 Cal.App.4th 23, 30, the sole factors relevant to temporary spousal support are the supported spouse's needs and the supporting spouse’s ability to pay.

California Family Code Section 4320 Factors

However, unlike temporary support, which may or may not require a showing of changed circumstances, modifying of a permanent order requires a material change of circumstances since the last order. When deciding whether there has been a material change in circumstances, the court considers the same criteria set forth in Family Code Section 4320 as it considered when making the initial order. For a detailed list of the factors, please review Family Code Section 4320 in detail by clicking here.

There are many reasons why a support order may need to be changed. Maybe the spouse or partner that was getting support no longer needs it, or the person paying support has had a significant drop in income and can no longer afford the amount of support. Sometimes, the spouse receiving support is not making a good faith effort toward being self-supporting, or a spouse that was being supported remarries, and the support needs to be ended.

If there is a significant change in any of the factors that the judge considers when ordering spousal support, you need to act right away to change your spousal or partner support order to reflect the changes.