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How Getting a Raise Affects Child Support/Alimony

Family courts in California understand that circumstances change in life and sometimes the change is significant. The courts offer a process for requesting a modification of existing court orders for child support and alimony. Often, when one ex-spouse earns a substantial pay raise, they seek legal counsel to determine how the increase in pay impacts their existing child support orders and/or orders for alimony—also called spousal support in California.

Can One Spouse Request a Modification of Child Support Orders If the Other Received a Raise?

Courts in California only review requests for modification of existing child support orders if the change in an ex-spouse’s pay is significant and ongoing. The court dockets would quickly become overwhelmed if ex-spouses petitioned for child support modifications each year when one or the other receives their annual five percent cost of living raise. Instead, the courts only consider petitions for changes in existing child support orders for raises of 10% or more. Temporary overtime is not an acceptable reason to request a change but the addition of substantial regular bonuses or commissions may be a reason to request a modification.

Either spouse may seek a modification if the other has had a significant ongoing pay increase. For example, if the paying spouse learns that the receiving spouse now earns a substantially larger income than when the orders for child support were put in place, they may request a modification to lower their monthly payments to adjust for the ex-spouse’s raise.

If a receiving spouse learns that the paying spouse earned a significant raise or ongoing pay increase, they may petition the court to increase the amount that the other spouse pays to adjust for their higher income.

Do California Courts Always Grant Requests for Modification of Child Support?

When courts receive a request for modification based on one spouse’s increase in income, they review the request but do not automatically grant it. The petitioning spouse must show that the requested change is in the children’s best interest. For example, if a child has increased medical needs, wishes to join extracurricular sports activities, or there’s another reason an increase in child support would benefit the child, the judge is likely to grant the request.

Do Raises Affect Alimony in California?

California courts base decisions on alimony or spousal support payments from one spouse to the other on the lifestyle both spouses enjoyed while they were married to prevent one spouse from suffering a dramatic lifestyle change after the divorce or to give them time to become self-sufficient. When the paying spouse receives a raise in pay it doesn’t mean the receiving spouse has a right to an increase in their support payments because the amount of the support was based solely on their income and lifestyle at the time of the divorce. Unlike child support, in which the courts assert that all parents have a legal obligation to support their children, including allowing children to benefit from a parent’s increased pay, the same obligation does not extend to ex-spouses.

On the other hand, if a receiving spouse earns a substantial and ongoing increase in pay or becomes self-sufficient, the court will consider the paying spouse’s request for a modification of their alimony payments as long as the paying spouse provides sufficient evidence of the receiving spouse’s substantial pay raise or self-sufficiency.

If you think a modification of your existing child support or alimony payments in California is in order, an Orange County family law attorney can help.