The Standard for Modifying Divorce Orders
In general, California courts are authorized to change divorce orders they issued in their final judgment for dissolution of marriage upon a showing that a material change of circumstances justifies modifying the orders. Simply put, if reasons why the court made its original orders no longer apply due to subsequent developments, such orders can—and should—be changed to reflect the current circumstances as they apply now.
Modifying Alimony Orders
Under California law, courts are required to assess certain factors when making determining issues concerning spousal support—also known as “alimony.” A court sitting in a divorce case is required to consider several factors listed under California Family Code § 4320.
For example, imagine that the court issued an order for spousal support that automatically ended eighteen months after the parties’ divorce based on the supported spouse’s education and training. However, if the supported spouse sustained a disabling injury in a car accident after the divorce—limiting their prospective employment opportunities—they may request the court to modify the order to extend spousal support past eighteen months.
Modifying Child Custody Orders
California courts are required to make decisions affecting child custody based on the best interests of the minor children involved. In general, California law presumes that a joint custody arrangement serves the best interests of a minor child. This is because children generally benefit from maintaining a close relationship with their parents.
However, a material change in circumstances can reopen the issue of child custody after the court issues a final decree of dissolution of marriage. For example, a parent’s decision to relocate due to work might make an existing joint custody arrangement not feasible. As a result, a parent might want to relitigate the issue, claiming primary custody of the minor child. Typically the parent who can provide a stable, familiar environment for the child has a good argument for claiming primary custody in a situation where the other parent is moving to another county or state.
Modifying Child Support Orders
Child support orders are ordinarily based on the relative financial conditions of the divorcing parties. According to statutory guidelines, a parent’s child support obligations are derived from a percentage of their income per minor child. A parent owes their child a duty to provide them with the necessary financial support to cover their food, shelter, medical, and educational needs.
What kind of circumstances justify changing an existing child support order? For example, if a child suffers from a disabling injury after the parties get divorced—requiring additional care—a party can request the court to modify the child support order to increase the amount or duration of child support.
Orders Based on Divorce Settlements
In cases where the parties resolved their issues through private settlement, the court does not necessarily have a record about the circumstances the parties considered when agreeing to terms involving things like spousal support or child custody. Therefore, it is important for a divorce settlement—also known as a marital settlement agreement—to specify the circumstances applicable to terms such as child custody and support.
The parties may also include provisions that specify what circumstances constitute a “material change in circumstances” justifying a future modification. Thus, a court sitting in a modification proceeding can rely on the terms of the marital settlement agreement when ruling on whether to later change its terms.
Consult The Neshanian Law Firm for Sound Legal Counsel
Do you need a trustworthy legal advisor for your family law dispute? If so, you should get in touch with an attorney from The Neshanian Law Firm, Inc. Our legal team has the experience and knowledge to help ensure your interests regarding issues such as property division, alimony, or child support and custody have an effective and professional legal advocate.
Call The Neshanian Law Firm at (949) 577-7935 or contact us online today for a consultation about your case.