When a couple with children seeks a divorce in California, the final divorce decree will include required child support payments from the higher-earning parent to the lower-earner based on both parents’ incomes and their amount of parenting time. Child support payment orders seek to minimize changes in the lifestyle or quality of living enjoyed by the children after a divorce so they don’t unduly suffer hardships. It also helps to reduce an undue financial burden on the parent who is the lower earner.
Because California uses a formula based on the income of both parents, if there is a significant change in the incomes of either parent, the support payments may increase or decrease if one spouse files for a modification of child support.
What is Considered a Significant Change in Income?
An annual cost of living raise of under 5% doesn’t typically constitute enough of an income change for the courts to consider a modification of child support. In order to keep the courts from becoming overburdened with modification requests, California only considers requests for modification when the change is significant and ongoing. The courts don’t consider small cost-of-living pay increases, temporary overtime payments, and bonuses as significant or ongoing changes in income so they do not qualify as grounds for a modification.
The California family court only considers a request for modification if the increase in pay is 10% or more. The court might also consider a review for modification if it’s been 3 or more years since the original order or the last modification.
If a paying spouse remarries, the new income in their household is not considered grounds for an increase because the new spouse has no responsibility to care for the children of the previous marriage.
Does the California Court Always Agree to a Modification Order?
Just because a paying spouse enjoys an increase in income, it doesn’t mean the court will automatically increase the amount of an existing child support order. In most circumstances, the court doesn’t wish to penalize a parent for increasing their earnings, but instead, will only order an increase if the parent receiving child support can show that there is an increase in the children’s needs, that there’s been a significant increase in the cost of living, or that the original order wasn’t adequate to provide for the children’s needs.
Other Reasons to Request a Child Support Modification in California
If the paying parent’s income increases significantly, they become a salaried employee or qualify for healthcare benefits, the parent who receives child support may file for a modification based on the change or to request the other parent provide healthcare coverage for the children.
If a receiving parent has a significant pay increase, the paying parent may also request a modification to reduce the amount they pay that parent based on their increased earnings. Because the court puts child support orders in place to minimize a gap or pay disparity between parents, any change in income on the part of the receiving parent that minimizes that gap can impact the amount of a child support order.
If you believe your spouse has had a significant change in their income and/or it’s been over three years since the court reviewed a child support order, a family law attorney can help you understand your rights and obligations in California family court.