If I’ve Lost My Job or Been Furloughed, Can I Get an Increase in Spousal Support?

With millions of people filing new unemployment claims each week during the COVID-19 pandemic, and many others who operate businesses and work freelance seeing their income decrease, these are tough financial times for many Americans, and with no clear “return to normal” for many people who are now struggling to get by. If you’re one of the many divorced persons in California who both work and receive spousal support from an ex-spouse, you may face a reality of losing your income and looking only to your spousal support to pay your bills.

Spousal support, however, can be modified upwards in certain cases where there is a significant change of circumstances, and the loss of a job and/or income can indeed qualify as such as a change of circumstances. This article covers the basics of the process of determining whether you may be eligible to obtain an upward modification of spousal support, and the process for seeking out increased support.

Are You Eligible to Receive Increased Spousal Support?

Under the California Family Code, spousal support awards can be modified where there is a significant change of circumstances, such as a job loss of the receiving spouse or increased income to the paying spouse (note, also, that the paying spouse might seek out a decrease or termination of spousal support if he or she experiences a loss of income or if the receiving spouse is earning higher income than at the time when the award was made).

That said, it is not uncommon for divorcing spouses who reach a settlement agreement (or “stipulated judgment”) in their divorce to address when or how a modification of support might be made in a manner that supersedes the California Family Code. In some situations, spouses agree that neither party can request a modification of support no matter the circumstances, and this tends to be more common in marriages of short duration. In any case, you will want to review the judgment in your divorce, perhaps with the assistance of an attorney, to determine whether you have the right to request a modification.

Another issue to discuss with your attorney is whether your circumstances – and those of your ex-spouse – do indeed constitute a significant change of circumstances that would warrant a modification upwards of your support. For example, if you lost your job, but you can easily obtain a similar paying job in the field, you may have a difficult time pursuing a modification. Likewise, if your ex-spouse has lost his or her job but is not pursuing a modification downwards, you may be better off for the time being with the status quo payments you are receiving.

Pursuing a Modification Upwards of Spousal Support

You can petition a California court for an order modifying your spousal support, but it is important to keep in mind that, due to the COVID-19 crisis, it may be difficult to obtain a hearing date anytime soon. But, as with most types of family law actions, it is generally best to pursue an agreement outside of court anyway on your request for increased spousal support. Your attorney can make the request to the other party outside of court (while perhaps at the same time filing a request for an order with the court) and negotiate with the other party regarding your request. Ideally a quick resolution of the matter can occur, but in many cases both sides will request that the other provide financial documents relating to income, assets, spending etc.

This process can certainly take some time and involve fees, and your attorney should work with you in an efficient manner to pursue an increase in your award of support while paying attention to the fees being spent. As with a divorce, the party with lesser income and/or assets who is seeking increased support can also petition the court to request that the other party pay some or all of his or her attorney’s fees in this process. Where both parties are more cooperative with each other a neutral mediator might help broker an interim support arrangement. Consider a mediation process or Collaborative team Divorce.

Guidance on Your California Family Law Questions From a Westlake Village Family Law Attorney

If you would like to learn more about how our office can provide guidance on any 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.