06 Jun Modifying Your Divorce Decree in California
You can modify a California divorce decree if you have proof of a change in circumstances that have taken place since your divorce decree was granted, that were not anticipated, and such that it now causes the terms of your divorce decree to be unreasonable.
As it concerns what qualifies as a change in circumstance for the purpose of modifying alimony or child support, California statutes specifically state that a 20% change in gross monthly income constitutes a “change in circumstances” and thus warrants a modification. For all practical purposes, however, this 20% is only a benchmark and you can file a motion with less than a 20% change, but the court will be under no legal obligation to deem that change sufficient.
Modifying Alimony in California
Either party may be granted a modification of alimony if he or she has evidence of a change in circumstances that renders the terms of alimony, as previously ordered, unreasonable.
For instance, if the income of either party has increased or decreased, the court may find that a change in the terms of alimony is warranted to keep them reasonable and/or equitable. Likewise, the court may find that alimony should be modified if evidence shows that the receiving spouse is now cohabiting with a member of the opposite sex or has remarried.
Modifying Child Support in California
Child support can only be modified if it was first ordered in your divorce decree. Again, in order to be granted a modification, you will have to provide evidence of a change in circumstances that has taken place since your divorce decree was granted. For example, if your child has been diagnosed with a learning disability and now needs tutoring, the paying party may be ordered to pay more child support. On the other hand, if the receiving party wins the lottery, or in some other way receives a windfall, child support may be reduced, or the receiving party may even be ordered to share a portion of the money with the paying spouse.
Although you may successfully request a modification of future child support payments, child support cannot be modified retroactively. Therefore, child support that has already accrued cannot be modified.
Modifying Child Custody in California
Similar to child support, a modification of child custody will only be granted if it was first ordered in your California divorce decree and when a change in circumstances has taken place since your divorce decree that warrants a review of your custody arrangements.
In California, the courts assume that it is best not to change custody arrangements unless it is necessary for the wellbeing of the children. So, not only does the requesting parent have to provide evidence of a change in circumstances since the custody arrangements were last ordered, he or she must prove that the requested modification will be in the best overall interest of the children.
Modifying the Division of Property in California
Although other terms of your divorce decree may be modified in California if you can prove to the court that due to a change in circumstances they are no longer reasonable, the terms of the division of property pursuant to a California divorce decree, like the transference of real or personal property in most other situations, is not usually modifiable.
Exceptions may exist in cases where fraud is evident, such as when one party failed to disclose the existence of hidden marital assets during the divorce. In these cases, the court may be inclined to modify the division of property pursuant to a divorce decree in order to reflect the previously undisclosed marital assets.