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.
Alimony Modification Process in CaliforniaAssuming 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:
- Request for Order (Form FL-300 )
- Income and Expense Declaration (Form FL-150 )
- 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
Things to Avoid When Requesting a Modification of Alimony in CaliforniaWhile 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.