Increase in Income Cause to Modify Child Support
Some people have asked is an increase in income cause to modify child support in Arizona. In Arizona, any individual can request a change to the support obligations as outlined in their divorce decree or separation agreement. When considering a request to terminate child support or spousal maintenance the Arizona courts look for “substantial and continuing changes” to the financial situation of one or both of the parties involved. When one party petitions and receives a modification or termination, the opposing party can appeal the decision to the Court of Appeals of Arizona. Such was the case with Jorgenson v Jorgenson, 640 P.2d 202.
Is an Increase in Income Cause to Modify Child Support in Arizona | Jorgensen v. Jorgensen
In regards to the marriage of James H. Jorgensen, Respondent/Appellee v. Julia Marie Jorgensen, Petitioner/Appellant, an appeal was by Julia Marie after the trial court ruled in James’ favor to terminate his monthly child support payment for the couple’s daughter, Melinda, whose primary residence was with the appellant, Julia Marie Jorgensen. The appeal was based on the Appellant’s belief that the trial court’s decision failed to consider that the original support obligation was put in place with knowledge of an expected income on the part of Julia Marie Jorgensen post-graduation. She felt that child support due from her ex husband should not have been terminated and that the original support payments as detailed in their separation agreement should remain in place.
According to the original agreement, the appellee (James) was to pay $200/month to support each of the parties’ two children in addition to $200/month for spousal maintenance. At the time of the original agreement, the appellant (Julia Marie) was a student at University of Arizona. The agreement specified that the $200/month payments to support the couple’s son were to terminate at the point when he took up residence with the appellee (James).
It was further agreed that the child support payments for the couple’s daughter would increase to $300/month when she turned twelve years old. The spousal support payments were to terminate on December 31, 1980, when she graduated from college or when she remarried – whichever occurred first. As of October 22, 1980, the parties’ son was living with the appellee (negating one $200/month support payment). The appellant was graduated and remarried (negating the spousal support payment).
The parties’ daughter was nine years old, leaving the child support obligation on her behalf at the original $200/month. This is the date on which the appellee filed a petition for modification of the dissolution decree. In his request, he alleged substantial and continuing change of circumstances. He requested termination of remaining child support obligation to provide for the support of his daughter.
Facts Considered by the Trial Court in Determining Modification and/or Termination of Child Support Award and Amount of Award
The original decision of the trial court to terminate the monthly child support obligation due from James to Julia Marie was made after evidence of three major changes was presented in relation to the circumstances of the parties involved at the modification hearing. These changes are outlined below:
1. The appellee (James) had a significant amount of debt in comparison to when the original child support amount and responsibilities were determined. It was further ascertained that the large number of debts were incurred voluntarily.
2. Appellant (Julia Marie) was remarried. Her husband’s income was at least equal to that of the appellee.
3. Appellant (Julia Marie) was now both graduated from college and employed at a rate of $19,000/year.
Do the Changes Presented Constitute Cause to Alter the Child Support as Agreed According to Arizona Law?
The trial court found the first two changes presented not eligible under the Arizona law used to interpret matters regarding child support and spousal support awards and amounts. The first was found not applicable to the awarding or amount of the award of child support due to the fact that the debt was incurred voluntarily. The ability to pay child support is determined by viewing the support obligation as a primary obligation that supersedes all other financial obligations.
The second was not considered cause to alter child support as the Appellant’s new husband has no obligation to support the children of the two parties (James & Julia Marie). The last was found to be a “substantial and continuing change of circumstance” that resulted in the termination of child support. While the Appellant argued that the change in her employment status should not be considered a substantial and continuing change because it was within the contemplation of both parties involved at the time when the original agreement was put in place, the Court of Appeals of Arizona agreed with the trial court in support of termination of child support due to evidence that suggested that even the Appellant’s graduation from the university was not seen as a foregone conclusion and therefore employment could not have been expected and in now way could there have been an accurate estimation of income at the time of the original agreement.
Related Legal Considerations for Modification and Termination of Support Requests:
The increase in income of the custodial parent does not always constitute cause for modification or termination of child support on the part of the non-custodial parent – even if it is substantial, continuing and unforeseen. The increase in income on its own does not decrease the non-custodial parent’s responsibility for providing for the support of their child (See Beddoes v. Beddoes, 155 Colo. 115, 393 P.2d 1(1964); Holbrook v. Holbrook. 116 Utah 114, 208 P.2d 1113(1949); Annot. 89A.L.R.2d 7, § 37 (1963).
The increase should be considered potential cause for modification/termination of support in cases where the non-custodial parent is bearing a greater share of the burden of support under the current agreement; this is frequently the case when the custodial parent was not employed at the time of the original agreement (See Holesinger v. Holesinger, 252 Iowa 374, 107 N.W.2d 247 (1961).
In this particular ruling, Jarvis v. Jarvis, 27 Ariz. App. 266, 553 P.2d 1251(1976), is controlling. In Jarvis, the father’s support obligation to the mother, who had been unemployed at the time of the divorce, but had since gained employment, was reduced. In Jorgensen v. Jorgensen, Appellant (Julia Marie) was unemployed at the time of the dissolution of marriage. At that time, the appellee (James) assumed the entire burden of support for both children.
At the time of the hearing for modification, he was providing full support for one child and a substantial amount of the support for the second. There had been a substantial and continuing change in the appellant’s (Julia Marie) ability to provide financial support to the parties’ children. This made it unnecessary for the appellee to continue to bear a larger share of the support obligation for the children. These facts led the court to modify the decree, leaving each party providing the full support for one of their two children. The Court of Appeals of Arizona found that the eminent fairness of the trial court’s decision made it impossible to not to support the decision – no abuse of discretion was found.