Actor Dennis Quaid recently reached out to the California court system and requested to pay more monthly child support. After his 2016 divorce from Kimberly Buffington, the pair had a child support order for Quaid to continue supporting their twins. At the time, their agreement was fair and took both parties’ income into account.
When people file for divorce, one of the decisions the court must make is whether one spouse must pay the other child support or spousal support, also known as alimony. The court obviously has to determine how much these payments should be. This upfront decision-making has an unfortunate consequence: many divorced people find that the payments ordered during the divorce don’t change with their financial circumstances.
Why You Should Always Look At Modifying Divorce Orders As Circumstances Change
Quaid has experienced a bit of a career renaissance, with several movies and TV series raising his income dramatically. As a result, the child support order filed at the time of his divorce did not take into account his suddenly-higher income, and he was paying much less than the California child support guidelines recommended. To keep supporting his children fairly, Quaid requested to pay more each month.
This may not be an entirely altruistic decision. Quaid has included in his court petition a request for the judge to “make a below-guideline child support order based on the reasonable needs of Thomas and Zoe.” He likely understands that his higher income may make him responsible for a substantial child support increase if Buffington requested the court reexamine their agreement. Quaid may be heading this off at the pass by voluntarily increasing his payment but still requesting a “below-guideline” new order. The intention would therefore be to prevent a much larger monthly payment by agreeing to a moderately higher amount.
This type of strategic modification is just one potential reason people may file for changes to their divorce agreements. While voluntarily raising your payment can have its place in your financial plan, many people find they need to lower their payments instead. Either way, it’s crucial to have a good reason for any alimony or support order change you’d like made before you request a modification from the court.
Reasons for Changing Divorce Agreements
There are a variety of reasons that California courts considered significant and worth changing a support order, including:
- The loss of a job or source of income
- A significant increase in income
- One party has a new child with another parent
- A current child’s needs change, such as needing more or less medical support
These can be significant changes in life circumstances, and may affect how well either party can support themselves and their dependents. As a result, they give the court cause to reexamine both partners’ finances and circumstances. If necessary, they can put a new order in place that takes the changes into account without placing an undue burden on anyone.
No matter whose life changes, you should be prepared to file or respond to a support order modification request.
The Process of Handling Post-Divorce Revisions
There are two methods of changing spousal and child support orders. Either you and your former partner can work together outside of the court system, or one party can file a request for modification with your local court. Working outside of court is often simplest because it allows both parties to negotiate and find a solution that makes everyone happy. In this case, both parties can write and sign a stipulation and submit it to the court, which will sign it into a new order.
The court may be more likely to change support orders created outside of court, however, unless you work with qualified attorneys. It’s assumed one or both of you did not receive adequate legal advice. For similar reasons, if you and your ex-spouse wrote a support agreement outside of court, either of you can decide to bring the matter before the court at any time.
If this occurs, or if you and your ex-spouse cannot come to an agreement in the first place, you will need to file an official request for modification. This process requires you to provide a lot of information upfront, including:
- Your own financial information
- The information for your partner and any children
- The reason for the petition or proof of your change of circumstances
The court uses this collected data to determine whether the changes presented are enough to justify a support order modification. In general, if your evidence supports raising or lowering your support payments by either 20% or $50, then it’s likely that the change will be granted.
It’s important to note that the person petitioning the court does not need to be the one who experienced the change in circumstances. If your ex-partner has recently received a raise, for example, you could petition the court to decrease the amount of alimony or child support you pay them. On the other hand, if you experience success like Quaid, on the other hand, your ex-partner could petition to increase the amount you pay them.
After any change in financial circumstances for either party, it’s worthwhile to discuss the situation with an attorney and prepare for a potential change in your support orders.
Circumstances Change. So Should Your Divorce Agreement.
Life is a process of continual change, personally and financially. After going through the intense personal change of getting a divorce, there’s no reason for your spousal or child support agreements to stay the same for years or decades at a time. Becoming single will likely lead you or your ex-partner to experience other, dramatic life and financial changes that could seriously impact any agreements you put into place.
If you believe that your alimony or child support payments are no longer a reflection of your financial situation, then you deserve to get them modified. Get in touch with our experienced spousal support attorneys today to discuss your situation. No matter how you need to change your support orders, working with a qualified financial and legal team will help you get the results you want.