If it’s been a few years since your California divorce was finalized, or even many years, you may find yourself in a position where you are unable to make ends meet even with your spousal support award, perhaps due to a loss of a job or a health issue that has increased your costs dramatically. Or you may find that your ex-spouse has now increased his or her income such that the spousal support payment that may have been a large imposition on them at one time is considerably smaller in comparison to what they are bringing home now.
In such cases, you may be able to petition the court to obtain an increase in your spousal support (although it should be noted that your spouse may also be able to obtain a decrease in spousal support in some circumstances). Keep in mind that, while it’s great if your ex-spouse will voluntarily agree to pay more in spousal support, you should still obtain a court order as a court will not enforce any such agreement unless the court has itself ordered it.
Determine Whether You are Permitted to Seek an Increase
First, you will need to determine whether you are even able to seek an increase. Most spousal support arrangements are the result of settlement agreements, often in the form of a Stipulated Judgment, which was submitted to the court for approval. It is not uncommon for a settlement agreement to include a provision which precludes either spouse from going back to court to seek a modification of support either upwards or downwards, so make sure you are eligible to seek an increase before proceeding further.
Has There Been a Material Change of Circumstances?
Assuming the judgment in your dissolution does not prevent you from seeking a modification of support, the critical point that you will need to prove to the court in obtaining your increase is to show a “material change of circumstances” in either your situation or that of your spouse’s. Basically, this is going to be a change of circumstances showing either increased need on your part or increased financial assets or income on your ex-spouse’s part to pay support.
Such material changes of circumstances could include:
- A loss of a job or a loss in income
- Your ex-spouse having an increased income or assets
- Your having greater expenses than expected, such as through a medical issue
- Your ex-spouse having lower expenses than expected
If your increase in expenses relate to your children with your ex-spouse, it may be more appropriate for you to seek a modification in child support, which can also be modified in a similar manner as spousal support.
Also, if you’re not sure you can prove a material change of circumstances, but your ex-spouse is willing to voluntarily pay you more, you can generally just submit that signed agreement to the court for approval without the extra step of proving this factor.
The Steps Involved in Asking a Court to Increase Your Support
The procedure for seeking an increase in spousal support is to file a Request for Order with the same court that handled your divorce. With the request, you will need to provide proof of your material change of circumstances. Your ex-spouse will have the opportunity to file a response with his or her own arguments and supporting evidence. Both sides may then request financial disclosures from the other side. Finally, there may be a hearing before the judge at which both sides can present arguments and evidence, including witnesses.
As with the divorce itself, this process can become messy and complex, but an experienced family law attorney working in your best interest should do everything possible to avoid delay and expense to win you any increase in support to which you are entitled.
Guidance on Your California Spousal Support Questions From a Westlake Village Family Law Attorney
If you would like to learn more about how our office can provide guidance on your spousal support issues or any other California family law issues you are facing in Ventura County or Los Angeles County, contact the Zonder Family Law Group office today at (805) 777-7740 or (818) 877-0001, or schedule your strategy session using easy-to-use online form here.