An interesting case came down last year regarding the modification of child support.  In the case of Marriage of Bodo (2011) 198 CA4th 373, 129, CR3d 298, a California Appellate Court held that requiring a “substantial change of circumstances” as a condition of modifying an agreed-to child support order is equivalent to requiring a “material change of circumstances;” and a trial court that found no substantial change in parties’ financial circumstances did not apply an improper legal standard.

The facts of the case were as follows:  As part of a judicially supervised settlement of their marital dissolution, the parties stipulated that Husband’s income was $33,333 per month and that he would pay $7,000 monthly for the support of the couple’s four children, along with private school tuition through high school.  Two years later, Husband moved to reduce child support, arguing that his income was reduced and he had to borrow funds to pay support.

The trial court found that support under the parties’ agreement could not be reduced without a “substantial change in circumstances,” and that, although a substantial change in Husband’s time-share (from 20 to 38.5 percent) warranted some reduction, there was no substantial change in Husband’s overall income.

Therefore, the trial court reduced the support amount to $6,178 and made orders regarding more than $79,000 in arrearages.  Husband appealed, claiming that the trial court applied an incorrect legal standard instead of determining whether a “material change of circumstances” had occurred to modify an “above guideline” support amount.  Husband also claimed that the court should have considered the financial effects of a change in time-share in evaluating whether his financial circumstances had changed.

The court of appeal affirmed the judgment.  It held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion.  The appellate court found that courts have variously referred to the need to show a “change of circumstances,” a “material change of circumstances,” or a “substantial change of circumstances” as a basis to modify support.

The appellate court concluded that a “material change of circumstances” is the same as a “substantial change of circumstances” for the purpose of modifying child support.  It held that the trial court did not apply the wrong legal standard in evaluating the merits of Husband’s motion to modify support.  It also held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding no overall change in Husband’s income, even though some underlying facts had changed.  Lastly, the appellate court found that the trial court had correctly taken into account the change in Husband’s time-share in reducing child support per month.

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