Family law support obligations come in two forms – child support and alimony. While they are both considered support, that is where the legal similarities between them end.
- Child support is determined by a specific formula, written into the laws of the State of Florida, and has very limited and strict bases for deviation from the amount established by this formula. Child support is also considered to be a right of the child or children, and therefore is always modifiable and is very difficult to waive or eliminate.
- Alimony, also called spousal support, is determined based on vague factors and subjective decisions made by the Courts, or by an agreement of the Parties. Whether or not alimony can be modified depends on the type of alimony ordered, and the terms of the order or agreement.
There are three main questions that people who are ordered to pay one of these types of support ask:
- How can I modify my support?
- When can I modify my support? and
- By how much can I modify my support?
How Can I Modify My Support?
Modifying child support or alimony both require the same legal document, or pleading, called a Supplemental Petition. This document asks the court to do something for you, in this specific instance, to change the amount of support you pay, or receive.
In order to have a legal basis to file this document, you have to have what is called a substantial change in circumstances, and this change must have occurred since the most recent time the court entered an order that addressed the support. The change must also be permanent and involuntary. This means that you cannot quit your job, or take a lower paying job, and then ask to reduce your payments.
The actual process through which support is modified is similar to the initial divorce process. It involves the exchange of full financial disclosure, including income, bank accounts, and debt information. It also usually requires a mediation conference, and if your case cannot settle at the mediation conference, then it requires a full trial. While this process may sound complicated, it can be streamlined and done efficiently with the right set of facts, and the right team supporting you.
When Can I Modify My Support?
As mentioned above, you can ask the Court to modify a support obligation when there has been a substantial change in circumstances that is involuntary and permanent. For alimony, however, there is also the consideration of whether the alimony obligation is modifiable, and can you modify the duration, the amount, or both.
This answer depends on the terms of your agreement or court order. It is also possible to terminate your alimony obligation, again, depending on the circumstances. Most agreements will specifically say whether an alimony obligation is modifiable, and some will even state that it is modifiable only if certain events happen.
If you have a modifiable alimony obligation, you can modify when you have one of the qualifying substantial changes or events that makes paying your alimony obligation impossible. It is also possible to modify your alimony obligation if the person receiving it no longer has a need for the alimony, for example, if they have a new job making substantially more money, or are involved in a supportive relationship with someone else.
If you receive alimony, it is more difficult to modify your alimony to receive a larger amount, unless your agreement or order indicates that the alimony amount was not enough to meet your needs at the time it was established.
Child support is different in that there is a guideline for what is considered a substantial change. Child support is established based on a formula, and when some of the variables in that formula change, the child support amount changes. For example, eliminating a daycare expense, having new health insurance, or changing jobs will all impact the child support obligation. When this obligation changes by 15% or $50, whichever is greater, that is considered a substantial change, and you are permitted to ask the court to adjust your child support obligation. This modification is modifiable both upwards or downwards with the same standard, unlike alimony.
By How Much Can I Modify My Obligation?
The question of how much will my alimony change is very difficult to answer, as the new amount will be based on the same vague and subjective factors as the initial obligation. The factors considered are:
- The need of the receiving party;
- The ability to pay of the owing party; and
- The standard of living established during the marriage.
What one person believes is an absolute necessary expense, another may believe is something that can be eliminated, which makes determining “need” and “ability to pay” different for every case. This determination, again like the initial determination, will be somewhat arbitrary.
Child support is much clearer, as the answer will be provided by the statutory formula. It will not be based on someone’s desire to have a lawn care service, and a determination of whether that should be essential. But instead will be based on income, child care expenses, and health insurance expenses. However, if one person is self-employed, their income may not be what is initially reported, and this could cause some complications and the need for additional financial document production as permissible deductions for tax purposes may not be permissible deductions for support calculations.
If you have questions about modifications, or any other family law matter, our legal team at Robert Sparks Attorneys is available to help. Contact us to speak with a lawyer.