Can Child Support Go Up When a Spouse Makes More Money in California?

By Elizabeth Rayne, J.D.

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Child support orders are not permanent, but instead adaptable to particular changes of circumstance. In California, the modification process begins with a petition to the court and the judge will look to whether a material change in circumstances has occurred, with enhanced wealth typically qualifying as such a change. However, it is important to understand that increased income is only one factor of many the court will take into consideration when determining whether or not to increase support.

Modification Overview

In California, a court-ordered child support plan may be adjusted when circumstances change. The change of circumstances must have occurred after the child support order was made. Generally, the court may modify child support if there was a significant and material change in the income of either party, but also if there was a significant change in the amount of time the child spends with each parent or in the cost of child care. However, there are certain exceptions to the general rule. Generally, if either spouse remarries, the income of the new spouse will not be considered when calculating child support.

Change in Income

When one parent brings in significantly more income than he did at the time the child support order was made, you may be able to modify the order. The court will look at not only salaries and wages, but income from rent, royalties, dividends, bonuses and other benefits. However, while the enhanced wealth of one parent may lead to a change in support, it can be offset by an increase in the other parent's income or a change in the amount of time the child spends with each parent.

Court Filing

In order to ask the court to change your support order, you must file a Request for Order, stating your reasons for requesting the modification, and an Income and Expense Declaration. After filing a copy with the court, you must serve a copy on your ex-spouse. The court will schedule a hearing, during which the court will review the finances of each party and any other relevant information. At the hearing, you may present evidence to support your argument for modifying child support due to the other parent's increased income.

Calculation Considerations

Income is one of several factors the court will consider when modifying child support orders. Increased income alone may not result in modification. The court will also consider financial hardship, such as extraordinary health care costs, travel costs for visitation, and other costs associated with taking care of the children, such as child care and educational needs. If your spouse has increased income, but also has custody of the children, any potential changes to child support may be offset by new child care costs.