Can Alimony be Modified in California?

When a final divorce decree is issued, one of the spouses may be awarded alimony. Too many times, those who are paying alimony, and those who are receiving alimony believe the amount awarded is the “final” amount and that amount is paid until the judgment is released. However, California courts do recognize in some cases, once an order has been established, there may be valid reasons to request the order be modified.

What Circumstances Can Lead to Modification of Alimony?

The first thing to understand is an alimony, or spousal support order as it is known, may only be modified if specific conditions are met. Spousal support payments are not ordered randomly — there are specific criteria which must be met before a judge will include spousal support in a divorce settlement. The specific criteria are included in California Family Code Section 4320.

Some of the circumstances which would allow you to make changes in spousal support include:

  • Income Changes — if the spouse receiving alimony has an in income of greater than 10 percent, there may be grounds for requesting a modification. The paying spouse who has the same situation may also request an alimony modification.
  • Living Situation — if the spouse receiving alimony begins cohabitation, there may be grounds to request a modification of alimony orders. Additionally, if the paying spouse has had a change such as a new dependent, they may also request a modification of support.
  • Failure to Exert Effort to Become Self-Sufficient — one of the characteristics of spousal support is it is to serve as a bridge unless there are circumstances which make it impossible for the receiving spouse to gain employment. In these cases, it may be necessary to request the court issue a “Gavron” warning which stemmed from Marriage of Gavron, 203 Cal. App. 3d 705, 711-712 (Cal. App. 2d Dist. 1988). This case was brought when a spouse who was receiving a substantial monthly alimony payment refused to seek employment over an extended period of time. This option is available when the court has not ordered permanent alimony payments.

There may be other circumstances which could warrant a modification of alimony, you should speak with a skilled family law attorney if need to either request an increase in alimony payments, or you are seeking a decrease in payments.

Alimony Modification Process in California

Assuming the court has retained the jurisdiction necessary to hear a case for modification of alimony, the person requesting the modification will be required to fill out the following forms:

  • Spousal or Partner Support Declaration Attachment(Form FL-157 ) – this form is optional but may help you prove the reasons why a modification is needed
  • Declaration(Form MC-030 ) or an Attached Declaration (Form MC-031 ) would be used if more information is necessary to support your request

While it may be possible for you to fill out these forms on your own, the challenge is making sure the arguments you are putting forth will sway the judge to find in your favor. This is one reason why it is helpful to work with a certified family law attorney in all matters which require court intervention.

Things to Avoid When Requesting a Modification of Alimony in California

While a modification of an alimony order may be made at any time, it is important to make sure you have the legal grounds to do so. There are other things you should be aware of when filing for a modification of spousal support including:

  • You should continue making payments if you are the person paying. This is important because a failure to make payments could result in your being held in contempt of court.
  • You should file a modification request as soon as you have identified the legal conditions have been met. Should an order for modification be issued, it will not be retroactive, the new order will only be in effect once the court has ordered or approved the change.
  • Do not modify your payments based on a verbal agreement between the two involved parties. Even if you have agreed to a change, it must be changed within the court system.

It is always important to protect yourself during the modification process, so you do not face additional legal challenges associated with non-payment or partial payments of alimony. Seek legal guidance if you have any questions regarding payments of alimony.

Experience Matters When Dealing with Alimony Modifications

When you are requesting a modification of alimony, it is important to have the proper documentation and proof needed to justify the request. While it is always possible to have the alimony order modified in California, if you do not have the legal basis to do so, it will be denied.

Spousal support payments are typically designed to ensure a person can maintain their standard of living following the dissolution of a marriage. However, when the paying spouse is facing challenges making payments, or the receiving spouse is unable to make ends meet, there may be grounds for changing the payments. You will not know if your situation warrants a modification until you speak with an experienced California alimony modification attorney.

Hiring an experienced family law firm can make a difference between having your request approved or denied. That is because an experienced attorney can help you determine if you have the legal grounds needed to request a modification. If we determine you have the legal basis for a modification, we will help you gather the documentation, fill out the required court forms so they are accurate and represent your interests in court.

To talk to our lawyer about your family law issue in a free telephone consultation, please call our office at 619-304-0418 or an email. We provide services to individuals throughout the San Diego County area and help them reach a resolution on all types of family law matters. Contact The Law Offices of Steven M. Bishop, Attorney at Law, A California Corporation at (619) 299-9780 if you have questions about your current alimony. Let us help you with requesting a modification.


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To talk to our lawyer about your family law issue in a free telephone consultation, please call our office at 619-299-9780. You may also send us an email. We represent people throughout San Diego County in a host of different family law matters.

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Phone: 619-299-9780

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