Acceptable Grounds for Family Court Order Modification in California
Family law is unique in many ways. Perhaps most notably, the family law system offers a more streamlined alternative to the standard appeal process when an individual accountable to a family court order believes the order to be unreasonable or untenable due to recent events. Family law acknowledges that life is unpredictable. Due to the nature of most family court orders, the terms of an order may not be as reasonable in the future as they are at the time they are signed into effect by a judge.
If you have recently experienced any major life events that have materially influenced your standing family court order, the modification process can allow you to make simple changes that reflect the recent changes in your life. This does not mean you can repeatedly pester the court until they modify your family court order to suit your exact preferences. There are certain conditions that must be satisfied if the court is to approve of any proposed modification.
Changing a Family Court Order for Alimony or Spousal Support
Many divorce agreements include terms related to alimony or spousal support. If a judge determines that one spouse needs financial support from the other after divorce due to a significant disparity between their incomes, the higher-earning spouse is likely to face alimony obligations for the foreseeable future. In most cases, alimony is temporary, and the time it lasts depends on how long the marriage lasted. It’s possible for a family court judge to award permanent alimony in some cases. However, in every alimony agreement, some terms pertain to how and when alimony payments cease.
If your alimony arrangement states that your payment obligations end when your ex-spouse remarries or cohabitates, these events would be “terminating actions,” and once they occur, they would effectively cancel your alimony obligation. Your alimony terms may also indicate that if your ex starts earning income over a certain threshold, your alimony obligation ends. If you believe that something has occurred that releases you from your alimony obligation, you can file a petition for modification that reflects this change. It’s also possible to submit a petition to change your alimony agreement in light of recent events. For example, you could request lowered payments or cancellation of alimony if you recently lost your job due to forces beyond your control.
Changing a Child Support Order
When your family court order requires you to pay child support to your child’s other parent, the terms of this section of the order will stipulate how much you must pay and how often payments are required. If you experience a significant change in your income, this can constitute valid grounds for a petition to modify your child support order. It’s important to remember that the requested change must be in response to events outside your control. If you quit the job of your own volition, you cannot cite this as justification to cancel your child support obligation. However, if you suffered a severe injury that prevents you from working in the future, this would be a reasonable foundation on which to base your petition for modification.
Any time a parent petitions for a change to their child support order, whether for increased payments, reduced payments, or canceled payment obligations, the court must ensure the proposed change aligns with the child’s best interests and accurately reflects the parents’ financial situations.
Changing a Custody Agreement
It is also possible to petition the family court to modify your child custody terms. If you believe that a recent life event or change in circumstances has materially affected the nature of your standing child custody agreement, you can petition for changes to the agreement that reflect these recent changes. For example, if your ex has repeatedly canceled their visitation time or otherwise violated the terms of your custody agreement, you may be able to petition for greater custody rights or additional terms to prevent such behavior from happening again.
Petitions to modify child custody are most common when one parent wishes to relocate. If they want to maintain custody after moving out of the area, they must secure approval to modify their standing child custody order to grant them greater custody rights or the ability to relocate with their child. Similar to altering child support, any alteration of child custody must suit the best interests of the children the change would affect.
Changing Property Division Determination
It’s also possible to discover financial information after your divorce is finalized that, if it had been discovered before the finalization of your family court order, would have changed the outcome of the order. For example, you complete your divorce and receive a property division determination, and six months later, you discover evidence that your ex-spouse had hidden assets they intentionally failed to disclose during your divorce proceedings.
Upon discovering such information, you should notify your attorney immediately. If you file a petition for modification using this information, it could form grounds for a revised property division determination. Your ex may also face criminal prosecution depending on the nature and the scope of their obfuscation.
Changing Your Family Court Order Beyond Modification
It’s important to remember that the modification process is reserved for making changes to an existing family court order to reflect recent life events. It’s possible to encounter other situations that require different responses. For example, if your ex attempts to kidnap your child, you will need to consult the local authorities to determine the best resolution to this situation. If your ex has committed domestic violence against you, your attorney can help you secure an order of protection to prevent them from harming you any further. It’s possible to take many different legal actions that will materially affect your standing family court order; the modification process exists for adjusting a family court order, not canceling it, or overhauling it completely.
If you have encountered an unexpected situation that you believe affects your family court order, you must consult an attorney as soon as possible to determine the best approach to the situation. At the law firm of Bickford, Blado & Botros, we routinely assist our California clients with their family court orders, whether that involves petitions for modification or alternative legal measures. If you need to discuss a potential change to your family court order, contact us today to learn more about how we can assist with the modification process.
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