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Can A Parent Reduce Their Child Support Obligation Due To COVID-Related Financial Losses?

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The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a substantial financial disruption for many California families. Many parents have found their income reduced. But a reduction in income does not automatically mean a reduction in spousal or child support obligations.

Under California law, a judge must find there has been a “material change in circumstances” to justify modification of an existing support order. A party is not allowed to unilaterally alter their spousal or child support payments without court approval. And the judge is not required to take a party’s claim of a change in circumstances at face value without adequate supporting evidence.

California Court Chastises Party for Filing Repeat Modification Petition

A recent unpublished decision from the California Second District Court of Appeal, In Re Marriage of Cora and Cora, provides a helpful example. This case involved the divorce of a same-sex couple. For clarity’s sake, we will refer to them by their first names, Catherine and Jennifer.

Catherine and Jennifer divorced in 2017. The couple had four children. Catherine, a celebrity chef and restaurateur, was the primary earner for the family. As part of the final divorce judgment, the court ordered Catherine to pay Jennifer $8,118 per month in child support and $9,500 per month in spousal support.

In March 2020, Catherine returned to court and filed a petition to modify her support obligations. She alleged that financial losses in the restaurant industry due to COVID-19 had “made it impossible” for her to continue paying support at the current levels.

Prior to filing her motion, however, Catherine had already stopped paying spousal support and was only paying half of her child support obligation. Catherine also refused to provide financial documentation of her lost income to Jennifer and her attorney. Not surprisingly, the judge denied Catherine’s motion to modify support.

A few months later, Catherine filed a second motion to reduce support. The court was not happy with this motion. The judge noted there was “not even an excusable attempt to establish a change in circumstances since the last order.” Indeed, the denial of the first order was still on appeal when Catherine filed her second motion, which the court also denied.

On appeal, the Second District rejected Catherine’s view that the trial court should have “ignore[d] its prior order denying modification and proceed as if it never happened.” While a party can certainly appeal the denial of a modification order, they cannot simply “file another motion for modification” based on the same grounds. Otherwise, there would “be no limit to the expense and harassment one can cause to the opposing party.”

Speak with a California Spousal Support Attorney Today

Support obligations often remain a contentious issue long after a divorce becomes final. If you are involved in a dispute over establishing or modifying such obligations, it is important to work with an experienced Campbell child support lawyer who can guide you through the process. Contact Hepner & Pagan, LLP, today to schedule a consultation with a member of our family law team.

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