Change in Circumstances and its Impact on Child Support and Spousal Maintenance

When a marriage is dissolved and divorce proceedings are initiated, a divorce settlement covers the daily life and financial particulars of the legal dissolution of marriage. The couple must determine the equitable distribution of property and debts, they must determine who will own the house, how they will co-parent, and any spousal maintenance or child alimony that must be paid to make sure the quality of life for the children does not suffer. Once the particulars are outlined in the divorce settlement and both parties and the court have approved of the arrangement, then life continues with the divorce settlement governing the family life.

However, nothing in life is static, and there will be certain life events that affect the divorce settlement agreement, especially the child support and alimony payments. These life changes will make it appropriate to modify the divorce agreement so that equity is maintained and neither of the parents feel that the other is receiving an unjust benefit that was originally not perceived as unjust. If you believe that your ex-spouse has a change in circumstances that would affect your spousal maintenance payments or child support payments, it is important to speak with an experienced family law attorney.

What Qualifies as a Substantial Change in Circumstance in Family Law?

Courts are generally hesitant to change the details of a divorce settlement especially when they feel that one of the parents is trying to get another bite of the apple after everything that has been signed and dotted. However, where life circumstances warrant a change, a modification may be requested. These life changes are known as “changes in circumstances.”

A change in circumstance has been evaluated by the Florida Supreme Court in previous family law cases that have surface as a result of new changes in circumstances, in hopes of gaining child custody. The case law has put forth that a change in circumstance is considered substantial where the person that is seeking to modify the specifics of a divorce agreement must show that there has been a material change that affects the original divorce agreement, and this is the type of change that was not previously contemplated during the creation of the original divorce agreement. When it comes to child custody, it must also be determined whether the type of material change adversely or positively impacts the best interest of the child.

Florida’s Change in Circumstances in Child Support Context

In Florida statute, the law provides a list of some types of changes in circumstances that might be substantial enough to be considered a substantial change in circumstances. Where the modification is looking to change the child support payments , the court will review the following to determine whether or not it constitutes a substantial change in circumstance:

  • The income or earning potential of one of the parents change;
  • The mental, emotional, physical abilities of one of the parents change and the parent is no longer considered fit to have custody over a child;
  • The needs of the child(ren) have changed;
  • The standard of living or quality of life of the child(ren) has changed; among others.
Florida’s Change in Circumstances in Spousal Maintenance Context

Where one of the parties is receiving spousal maintenance, or alimony, a change of circumstance may also modify the amount that the party will receive. These changes could refer to:

  • The party that is receiving alimony is cohabiting with or has remarried another person;
  • The economic circumstances of either of the parties has changed (such as a new job or new earning potential);
  • One of the parties has a mental, emotional, or physical impairment that affects their ability to pay alimony or there needs to be an increased amount of alimony to cover the new issues that the party suffers from; or
  • The death of one of the parties, among other factors.

Please contact West Palm Beach family law attorney William Wallshein for a confidential consultation if you are interested in modifying your divorce settlement agreement due to a change in circumstances.