No matter how airtight the terms of a divorce settlement are, no one can possibly foresee all the situations that may crop up after the divorce is final. A family- or work-related relocation, job loss, or shifting priorities could change the trajectory of one or both parents, creating a necessary adjustment to the terms of the agreement.
Depending on the situation, residents of Southern California may want to take advantage of the important legal resources available to them if a change in their circumstances requires modification of a divorce decree or enforcement of an existing order.
Best interests of the child factors
California courts will base any child support decisions on what is in the best interests of the child. When there has been a substantial change in circumstances, the financial impact will affect everyone involved. Some of these changes may alter the amount of support, the visitation schedule, or even custodial responsibilities, that can be arise from:
- A new job with a change in income
- Illness or disability of one parent or the child
- A parent’s death
- Evidence of domestic violence
Regardless of the circumstances, the court must assess the changes necessary changes that will allow the child to have what they need to live a healthy life, including the physical and educational needs of the child such as food, shelter, clothing, entertainment, travel expenses and recreational activities.
Ordering one parent to make support payments alleviates some of the financial responsibilities of the custodial parent. However, the terms of the agreement can become unsuitable to the noncustodial parent, especially if they do not acknowledge additional financial contributions that the parent is making. Child support usually lasts until the age of 18, but in some cases, it may continue through college.
Modifying or enforcing a divorce decree
There are significant penalties for refusing to make child support payments. If the ex-spouse falls behind, for example, California law requires them to pay interest on top of the amount owed. If the ex-spouse can make support payments but chronically fails to do so, this can lead to contempt charges, which may incur jail time. A failure to pay child support may result in garnishment of the parent’s tax refunds or driver’s license suspension.
A life change that alters child support, such as income loss, a move out of state, or if one parent starts a new family, can be legitimate reasons to request a modification of an existing order. If one spouse is asking for a modification that is not in the best interest of the child, however, it is important to get a legal opinion on how best to proceed.