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Anytime there is an issue of child support or spousal support (also known as alimony) before the family law court, the judge is going to carefully weigh a variety of factors before reaching a conclusion about who should pay, how much should be paid and for how long.

Once the order is issued, the only way it can be altered is if one of the parties involved requests a review based on a substantial change in circumstance. It could be that the parent receiving support payments requests an increase in those payments due to special needs of the child or after learning about a major boost in the other’s income.

Mostly what our Brooklyn child support attorneys have noted in recent years are requests for a reduction in support payments – primarily fueled by the economic downturn, which as resulted in lay-offs, benefit reductions and decreased salaries.

Establishing a substantial change in circumstance, however, is not always a straightforward matter, as the Connecticut Supreme Court case of Olson v. Mohammadu recently illustrated. Although this was not a matter handled in New York, courts often look to the supreme court decisions made by other state courts for guidance in similar cases.

In this case, the high court was asked to review the refusal of two lower courts to grant a modification of child support, based on the substantial change in circumstances as laid out by the father.

The lower courts had rejected the father’s request on the basis that the reason for the substantial change in circumstance was voluntary on his part. However, the high court reversed those earlier decisions, holding that the lower courts had erred in failing to take into consideration the father’s motivations in voluntarily changing his circumstances.

Here, we had a mother who lived in Connecticut and a father who lived in Florida. The two divorced back in 2009, and at the time had been living in separate states. Upon dissolution of the marriage,the court allowed for joint legal custody of the child, with primary custody granted to the mother and reasonable visitation rights to the father.

Further, the father was required to pay alimony in the amount of $777 weekly and child support of $335 weekly, plus costs for daycare, extracurricular activities and medical expenses.

The following year, the father requested a modification to this order on the basis that there had been a substantial change in his circumstances. He had relocated from Florida to Connecticut in order to be closer to his child. In accepting a new employment position, his annual salary was reduced by some $30,000.

However, after the hearing, the trial court denied the father’s motion, citing the voluntary nature of the change in his circumstances. The court did concede that the father’s motivation for moving amounted to a good parental decision, but it was one that “ignored the realities of the financial obligation as set forth in the judgment” that had been issued just several months prior.

In response to a subsequent motion by the father to further articulate its reasoning, the court indicated that it did not consider the father’s relocation to be a substantial change in circumstance for the sole reason that it was voluntary. The appellate court confirmed this logic.

The father appealed to the state supreme court on the grounds that the lower courts had misinterpreted previous case law, which held that substantial changes “brought about by the defendant’s own fault” are not necessarily grounds to modify an existing support order.

The high court agreed that the statute had been misinterpreted, and that the father’s reason for relocation was worthy of consideration. The simple fact that the move was voluntary, the court held, did not bar the father’s claim of a substantial change warranting modification.

If you are seeking child support modification in Brooklyn, call our offices at (718) 864-2011.

Additional Resources:

Olson v. Mohammadu, Dec. 10, 2013, Connecticut Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Post-Nuptial Agreements and Stay-at-Home Moms, Dec. 6, 2013, Brooklyn Child Support Lawyer Blog