Change in Circumstances Needed to Modify Child Support
Arizona law allows a court to modify a child support award on a showing of changed circumstances. An appellate court reviews a trial court’s modification of child support order using an abuse of discretion standard of appellate review. The Court of Appeals reviewed a child support modification order in Beck v. Jaeger, 604 P. 2d 18 (1979).
Facts of the Case
Mrs. Beck and Mr. Jaeger divorced in January 1974. The court ordered Mr. Jaeger to pay child support of $62.50 monthly for each child. When the children were 10 and 8, some 3 years later, Mrs. Beck asked the court to modify the amount of support. The court held a hearing and, at its conclusion, ordered the increase of $100 per month. Mr. Jaeger appealed.
Modification of a Support Order
Before an Arizona court can order a modification of child support, a party must make a showing of changed circumstances. These changed circumstances must be substantial and be continuing. The sufficiency of the showing is left to the sound discretion of the trial court. An appellate court affirms the lower court’s ruling if competent evidence shows a change of circumstances. The lower court found that at this time, Mrs. Beck and Mr. Jaeger’s kids require at least $300 per month to meet their basic needs.
Moreover, the cost of living had substantially increased since the original child support order was entered in 1973. In addition, Mr. Jaeger’s earnings substantially increased from the time of the divorce. In 1973 and 1974, he earned $6,647 and $2,534, respectively. Mrs. Beck testified that she agreed to the initial support amount because, at that time, Mr. Jaeger had little income. These factors constitute competent evidence of a change of circumstances.
Sharing the Obligation to Support the Children
Mr. Jaeger claims that his court-ordered “share” of the support obligation is 75%, while Mrs. Beck’s is only 25%. However, Mr. Jaeger makes a lot more than his former wife. He earns $15,000 – $16,000 while Ann only earns $600 a month. Also, $300 was the minimum needed for the children. Mrs. Beck’s estimated monthly expenses for the children exceed $400. Therefore, Mr. Jaeger’s share is not disproportionate. Both parties have remarried and their respective spouses are employed. However, this has no bearing on the child support obligation.
The Arizona Appellate Court’s Ruling
The Court of Appeals affirmed the order modifying the child support. It found no abuse of the trial court’s discretion in requiring John to pay an additional $100 per month for child support.