Experiencing a Reduction in Income or Unemployment? What You Should Know about a Child Support Modification: The Basics

On Monday, March 23, Avengers actor and two-time Academy Award nominee, Jeremy Renner, filed a request to modify his child support obligation (of $30,000 per month) and claimed that, in part, the COVID-19 pandemic caused his income to decrease. In his court pleadings, Jeremy claimed that, while he knew that his income in 2020 would be lower as he no longer had Avengers films lined up, he stated that due to the pandemic, “it is likely that most productions will not resume again prior to the end of the year. As such, the projects that I had previously lined up to film this year are likely canceled or postponed.”

Jeremy’s financial predicament is not too different from that of many Americans right now. As COVID-19 sweeps through the U.S., many Americans are getting laid off or are finding that their employment is temporarily paused. Others may find that they still have jobs but that their income is decreasing.

If you have a child support order here are some things to consider:

Child Support Orders are Always Modifiable

Absent jurisdictional limitations, child support orders in California are always modifiable, whether the order is stipulated to between the parents or ordered by the court. A child support order is never deemed to be final, even after the divorce is completed, so long as the obligation for child support exists. 

Basis for Modifiability in California

As a general rule, courts will not modify a child support order unless there has been a “material change of circumstances”. In California, there are no rigid standards regarding changed circumstances. Rather, this determination is made on a case-by-case basis and may rest on both the payors’ ability to pay child support as well as the need for support. The key issue here is always whether a change of circumstances has affected either party’s financial status.

Filing Sooner than Later- Rule of Retroactivity

The California Family Code authorizes that a child support modification order can be made retroactive to the date of filing of the request to modify. Perhaps things will get better–one can only hope. However, strategically, the earlier a party files to modify their child support payment the better, as the new order will be made retroactive to the date of filing.

While the future is uncertain, parties subject to child support orders have the certainty that, if times get tough, they have the opportunity to seek to modify their child support obligations.