If you’ve been through a divorce, you know that life can take a sudden, unexpected turn. Change is inevitable. But just as your personal life can take a different direction, so can your career. You might decide to pursue an exciting new opportunity, or your employer might decide to let you go. Your income could suddenly increase or decrease, raising an important question: How does your change in employment impact the amounts you pay in child support and spousal support? The answers depend on whether your new position pays more or less, and maybe even the circumstances surrounding the change.
Good News First: What If You Begin Earning More?
If your job change is a promotion and you start to earn substantially more, your ex can request an upward modification of child support. Under New York’s Domestic Relations Law, basic child support is based on a percentage of your income. For example, if you have three children, you and the children’s other parent are expected to pay 29 percent of your combined income on support. To keep the example simple, let’s say you were making $100,000 a year, and your spouse does not work, because raising the children is a full-time job. You would have been paying $29,000 in child support. Now, let’s say you get a $20,000 raise. You would have to pay an additional 29 percent of the $20,000, or $5,800, for a total of $34,800.
However, the court in its discretion could order a bit more or a bit less. The court could decide that your original child support order did not maintain the children at the standard of living they would have enjoyed if your marriage had remained intact. The court might feel that now is the time to order you to pay for extras, such as private school tuition, summer camp, and enrichment activities.
As for spousal support, courts are leery about raising support orders after the marriage has ended, simply because the payor is doing better financially. A court would look for a link between the payor’s newfound success and any service performed or sacrifices made by the recipient spouse. Or, if the recipient spouse is suffering from declining health, making it difficult to work while medical expenses pile up, a court could order additional support. Finally, the court might question the timing of your promotion. If you deliberately delayed the promotion until your divorce was final, the court could issue a new support order based on your current earnings.
What If Your Career Has Suffered a Reversal?
On the other hand, you could be dealing with hard times. Businesses downsize and let staff go. To land on your feet, you might have to accept a position paying much less. Maybe you own a business that never recovered from the COVID shutdown. If you are earning substantially less than you were when your support orders were issued, you can request a modification from the court. However, you’re going to face a heightened level of scrutiny.
The court will want to know why you are earning less money. Don't expect much sympathy if you just decided to check out of the rat race to follow your bliss. You can’t simply choose to earn less than your potential and expect a reduction in your support obligations. Even if your situation wasn’t voluntary, the court could take a hard stance. If you lost a job or were demoted for poor performance, due to personal issues, the court will expect you to get your act together. You simply can’t expect much leniency from judges who have seen all types of scams, in which parties find a way to report less income, so they can pay less in support.
If your hardship was caused by factors outside your control, such as an employer’s downsizing, you might get more sympathy. But that sympathy might not translate into tangible assistance. Courts do not grant downward support modifications unless there’s reason to believe the financial hardship is likely to be long-lasting or permanent. If you haven’t been disabled and still have marketable skills, the court will expect you to find suitable employment.
Of course, your chances of getting a favorable outcome in court depends on the quality of legal advocacy your receive. Be sure to consult a knowledgeable family law attorney who can fully explain your options.