Changing (or Ending) a Spousal/Partner Support Order

After a judge makes a spousal or partner support order, 1 or both spouses or domestic partners may need to change the order. If you are in this situation, you have to show that there has been a "change in circumstances" since the spousal or partner support order was made. This means something significant has changed since the spousal or partner support order was made.

There are many reasons why a support order may need to be changed. Maybe the spouse or partner that was getting support no longer needs it, or the person paying support has had a significant drop in income and can no longer afford the amount of support. Sometimes, the spouse/partner getting support is not making a good faith effort toward being self-supporting, so the paying spouse/partner can ask the court to end the support order based on this. Or a spouse/partner that was being supported remarries, and the support needs to be ended.

Another situation that sometimes comes up is related to child support. When the parties have children together and child support ends (like if the children are no longer minors or custody is switched from 1 parent to the other), the spousal or partner support amount may also need to be changed.

If the spouses or domestic partners can reach an agreement on a new amount of spousal or partner support, they can write it up as an agreement/stipulation and give it to the judge for signature to have it become a new court order.

But if the spouses or domestic partners cannot agree on the change, the spouse or partner wanting the change must file a motion with the court asking for a "modification" of the spousal/partner support amount.

IMPORTANT! Unless the judge signs a new court order, the existing spousal or partner support amount and order will not be changed. So, to protect yourself, even if you have a verbal agreement with your spouse/domestic partner to change the spousal or partner support amount, put it in writing and have a judge sign it. That way you have a current spousal or partner support order that reflects the current amount.

Why You Should Ask for a New Court Order Right Away

If there is a significant change in any of the factors that the judge considers when ordering spousal or partner support (like if the income of the paying spouse/partner goes down because of job loss or fewer work hours), you need to act right away to change your spousal or partner support order to reflect the changes.

People often wait to change the support order because:

  • They think the job loss or the drop in income, for example, is temporary;
  • They are stressed and worried and spousal or partner support is the last thing on their mind;
  • They are in a situation (like in jail or in prison) where it is very difficult to file court papers;
  • They think it will be easy to change the order later when they have time or are less stressed or are out of jail; or
  • They have another reason that makes going to court to change spousal or partner support not seem like a priority.

BUT if you wait, you will not be able to change your spousal or partner support order as of the date you lost your job or your income went down.

That is because spousal or partner support cannot be changed retroactively. If you lost your job 3 months ago but are just now filing papers in court to change your support order because you have no income, the judge is NOT allowed to go back to the day you lost your job. The judge can ONLY change your spousal or partner support from the date you filed your papers in court asking for the change.

So if something happens that makes it necessary for you to change the amount of spousal/partner support, it is very important that you act right away. Even if you are incarcerated, you can get help: write a letter to your family law facilitator (or ask a friend or family member to go in person to the office) to ask the facilitator to help you file papers in court by mail.

Click if you want to see all the forms you may need to ask the court to change a spousal or partner support order, but read the rest of this section to make sure you are using the right forms for your situation.

Asking the Court to Change a Spousal or Partner Support Order

To ask for a court hearing to change your existing spousal or partner support order:

1. Fill out your court forms
Fill out:

  • Request for Order (Form FL-300). You can use the Information Sheet for Request for Order (Form FL-300-INFO) for information to fill out FL-300. (Ask your family law facilitator if you need to check the box for “Court Order” and item 4 on Form FL-300); and
  • Income and Expense Declaration (Form FL-150).
  • If you are changing a spousal or partner support order made as part of your divorce or legal separation judgment, or after the judgment, it may be helpful for you to use the Spousal or Partner Support Declaration Attachment (Form FL-157). This form asks you to provide the information the judge will need to make a decision in your case, addressing all the factors the law tells the judge to consider when making decisions about long-term spousal or partner support. This form is optional, but even if you do not use it, you may want to take a look at it to make sure you understand what you will have to prove to the judge.
  • Also use a Declaration (Form MC-030) or an Attached Declaration (Form MC-031) if you need more space to explain why you believe a change in spousal or partner support is needed.


2. Have your forms reviewed
Ask your court's family law facilitator to review your paperwork. The facilitator can make sure you filled it out properly before you move ahead with your case.

3. Make at least 2 copies of all your forms
One copy will be for you; another copy will be for your former spouse or partner. The original is for the court. If the local child support agency (LCSA) is involved in your case, make 3 copies.

4. File your forms with the court clerk
Turn in your forms to the court clerk. He or she will keep the original and return the copies to you, stamped "Filed." You may have to pay a filing fee. Find out how much the fee for filing a Request for Order is. If you cannot afford the fee, you can ask for a fee waiver.

5. Get your court date
The clerk will give you a court date and write it on your Form FL-300.

6. Serve your papers on your former spouse or domestic partner
Serve your spouse or partner with a copy of your papers and a blank Responsive Declaration to Request for Order (Form FL-320) and blank Income and Expense Declaration (Form FL-150) before your court date. Remember, someone else — NOT you — must serve the papers. 

  • If you filed a Request for Order (Form FL-300) with the box for "Court Order" and Item 4 checked, your papers MUST be served in person at least 16 days before your court date.
  • If you filed a  Request for Order (Form FL-300) with NO check marks on the box for "Court Order" nor on Item 4, you can probably serve your pouse or partner by mail. But if you serve by mail, you must do it at least 16 court days before the hearing plus 5 calendar days for mailing. Ask the family law facilitator if you are not sure if you can serve your papers by mail.

Get more information about “service.” Look at the front of Form FL-300 to see if the court ordered you to serve any other documents

Remember that if the local child support agency (LCSA) is involved in your case because they are helping you with enforcement of your support orders, you will have to serve them with a copy of your papers as well.

7. File your proof of service
Have your server fill out a Proof of Service by Mail (Form FL-335) (or 2, if you also had to serve the LCSA). You must then file each Proof of Service with the court. It is very important your server fills out the Proof of Service correctly. If possible, have your family law facilitator review it to make sure it was filled out properly.

If the papers were served in person, your server has to fill out a Proof of Personal Service (Form FL-330).

8. Go to your court hearing
Go to your court hearing and take a copy of all your papers and each Proof of Service. Bring proof of your income and expenses and any documents that support your argument that there has been a change in circumstances that makes it necessary to change the spousal or partner support.

Read Going to Court to find out how to prepare for your court hearing.

Keep in mind that family law facilitators can help you mediate your spousal or partner support issues. So even after you ask for a court date, you can try to work out an agreement on changing your spousal or partner support. If you can work out an agreement, the facilitator can help you write it up and turn it into the judge for his or her signature, making it a court order. If you do not reach an agreement in mediation, you can still go in front of the judge so he or she can make a decision in your case. 

After the court hearing

Once the judge makes a decision at the court hearing, the judge will sign a court order. In some courtrooms, the clerk or court staff will prepare this order for the judge's signature. In other courtrooms, it is the responsibility of the person who asked for the hearing to prepare the court order for the judge to sign. If either side has a lawyer, the lawyer will usually be asked to prepare the order.

If you have to prepare this order, you will need to fill out the Findings and Order After Hearing (Form FL-340), and the Spousal, Partner, or Family Support Order Attachment (Form FL-343).

Also turn in an Earnings Assignment Order for Spousal or Partner Support (Form FL-435) so that the wages of the person paying support can be garnished (assigned) to pay the support. If there is already an earnings assignment order, it will be changed to collect the new amount of support. When you fill out Form FL-435, make sure you only include the last 4 digits of the social security number of the person paying support – the law requires it to protect his or her privacy.

Remember, the family law facilitator can probably help you with all these forms. So ask the facilitator for help or have him or her review the forms to make sure you did not make any mistakes.

 

Asking the Court to End a Spousal or Partner Support Order

If the court order for spousal or partner support already has an end date in it, then you do not have to do anything. If your wages are being garnished (assigned), you may have to prepare a new Earnings Assignment Order for Spousal or Partner Support (Form FL-435) that reflects a $0 amount for spousal/partner support and give that to your employer.

Spousal or partner support also ends if your former spouse or domestic partner remarries or enters into a new domestic partnership. You may need to have a new Earnings Assignment Order for Spousal or Partner Support prepared with a $0 amount.

You can also make an application on your own (called an "ex parte" application) to end the wage assignment if your spouse passed away or remarried or if the support payments have not been delivered to your ex spouse for over 6 months because your employer or the child support agency has not had a current address for your spouse. To do this, you can use the Ex Parte Application to Issue, Modify, or Terminate an Earnings Assignment Order (Form FL-430).

Ask your court clerk what the procedure in your court is or what is best given your situation. Or ask your court's family law facilitator for help.

Your court may also require you to formally file a request to end your support. This request is called a "motion," and the process is the same as for changing a spousal or partner support order.

If the local child support agency (LCSA) is involved in enforcing the spousal/partner and child support in your case, you may be able to get your spousal or partner support ended without having to go to court. Find out if the LCSA can help you by contacting your former spouse or partner to verify the new marriage or partnership and preparing an agreement ending the spousal/partner support.

Keep in mind that if you owe any past spousal or partner support, you will have to continue making payments, with interest, until you pay it off.

If you need help, the family law facilitator can help you find out if you need to go to court and, if you do, help you with your paperwork.

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