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Can Alimony Be Modified in California?

Whether you are paying alimony or receiving alimony, the payments make a big impact on your life and financial situation. For the payor, sometimes the impact is too big, not leaving you enough to live on. Or for the recipient, the impact may not be big enough, leaving you short when it comes time to pay bills.

So, the logical question is whether you can modify alimony obligations in California. The answer, as with so many questions in the law, depends on the situation. We will explore the rules on alimony modification and the steps you can take to help achieve your goals for revision.

A Modification Must Be Justified

To change spousal support—which is the term California uses for alimony—you must usually demonstrate a change in circumstances that justifies the modification. However, there are not hard and fast rules describing exactly what constitutes a change that is sufficient to justify modification.

The person seeking the modification must present evidence to support the need for a modification. Courts are obligated to consider the same factors in a request for modification as they did in the original determination about whether to award spousal support. So a former partner seeking a modification could demonstrate a change in factors such as:

  • Obligations and assets of each party
  • The marketable skills of the party receiving support and the need for training
  • Age and health
  • Whether the receiving party’s ability to work is affected by the need to care for dependent children

The party seeking the modification will need to provide pay stubs or similar evidence of recent income. Payors frequently request a modification if they have lost a job or their work income is reduced in some other way. If the reduction is due to a factor within the control of the paying spouse, such as a voluntary reduction in hours or voluntarily taking a job that pays less, then the court tends to look disfavorably on the request for modification. Recipients of alimony often seek modifications to gain additional amounts if they or a child has medical problems or other additional needs that increase expenses or make it harder to earn income.

There Must Not Be a Prior Agreement Preventing Modification

One thing the court will need to confirm before modifying a spousal support order is whether the parties had established a valid agreement that prevented modification of support. That agreement could be contained in a pre- or postnuptial agreement, or as part of the order establishing alimony obligations.

Even an oral agreement specifying that alimony will not be modified is enforceable if it was made in open court.

Statutory Reasons for Modification of Spousal Support

Some of the statutes regarding spousal support specifically state that certain situations do or do not provide grounds for a modification of alimony. For instance, Section 4326 of the California Family Code states that “termination of child support pursuant to subdivision (a) of Section 3901 constitutes a change of circumstances that may be the basis for a request by either party for modification of spousal support.” (This refers to termination of child support because the child has graduated high school or reaches the age of 19.)

As another example, Section 4323 establishes a rebuttable presumption that if the party receiving support cohabits with a partner, that party has a decreased need for support. The statute continues to state that if the court determines that circumstances have indeed changed, the court can modify or terminate alimony. However, the income of the partner the supported party is living with cannot be considered in determining whether a modification of support is justified.

An experienced family law attorney can help you determine whether statutory factors provide justification for a modification of alimony in your situation.

Failure to Become Self-Supporting

Alimony in California is generally designed to last only long enough to enable the receiving spouse to become self-supporting. The general assumption is that the longer a spouse has been married and focused on supporting the home, the longer it will take them to develop earning capacity to maintain the lifestyle enjoyed during the marriage.

If a spouse does not have a condition that prevents them from working, and that spouse doesn’t do much to increase employability or look for a job, the failure to attempt to become self-supporting has been held as grounds to justify modification of spousal support. More often, the lack of effort to become self-supporting is used to justify a refusal to extend alimony, but it could also provide grounds to reduce or terminate obligations.

Working Closely with an Experienced Attorney Can Allow You to Obtain the Modification You Need

Determinations about whether and how to modify spousal support are extremely fact-specific. That means if you are seeking a modification, or you want to show why a modification is not warranted, you need to work closely with your attorney to ensure that they have the best factual information to support your goals.

At Holstom, Block & Parke, APLC, our team of Certified Family Law Specialists and associates understands the factors courts find persuasive in modification cases. Schedule a confidential consultation to learn how we can help you get the modification you need.

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