What Constitutes A Substantial Change In Circumstance

June 16, 2022

What Constitutes A Substantial Change In Circumstance For Purposes Of Child Support Or Alimony?

When a marriage ends, along with dividing marital assets, many divorce judgments include child support and alimony to ensure that children and former spouses can continue to live in the same standard as they were prior to the divorce. Like wages, however, the amounts ordered for child support and alimony at the time of the divorce often need to be increased or decreased in the future. The courts require that there be a “substantial change in circumstance” to increase or decrease either child support or alimony. What is a substantial change in circumstance for purposes of child support or alimony? Is it as simple as one person getting a raise or paying a higher rent? If you are seeking to request a modification of child support or alimony, consider calling the experienced family law attorneys at Johnson Law Group at (720) 463-4333 to discuss your case and what legal options you may have.

Why Do Courts Require a Substantial Change in Circumstance?

The courts require a substantial change in circumstance to modify child support or alimony to ensure that the court system is not overwhelmed by these requests. If there were no restrictions on requesting a modification of child support or alimony, people could request these modifications so often that the courts would not be able to appropriately answer the requests.

By requiring a substantial change in circumstance, the courts ensure that modifications are less frequent and that those requesting modifications are more thoughtful about when to do so because he or she will not want to waste time or money on requesting a modification that he or she know will be denied.

What Is the Difference Between Child Support and Alimony?

Child support and alimony are each forms of financial support that can be ordered in a divorce. They are not interchangeable and the requirements for ordering them are different.

Child Support

Child support is financial support ordered from a non-custodial parent to the custodial parent of their shared children. Child support is calculated based on each parent’s income, expenses, and other factors. Child support ends for each child upon graduating high school, and when the youngest child reaches graduates, it ends completely. There are some circumstances under which child support continues past a child’s high school graduation, including if the child is dependent upon his or her parent(s) due to a mental or physical disability.

Child support is only ordered when a divorcing couple shares children. If only one person had children from a previous relationship, his or her former spouse will not be ordered to pay child support for those children unless he or she adopted them during the marriage.


Alimony, also called spousal support, is a form of financial support ordered by the courts that allows a former spouse to continue to maintain the standard of living he or she had while married. There are many factors used to calculate alimony, including each spouse’s income, the standard of living during the marriage, length of the marriage, division of assets in the divorce, and marital fault.

Alimony often ends when the receiving party remarries or cohabitates with a romantic partner, but in some cases, it is awarded permanently. If the divorcing couple has children, both child support and alimony may be ordered and the amount ordered for alimony may be affected by the amount ordered for child support.

What Are the Factors for a Substantial Change in Circumstance for Child Support and Alimony?

To determine whether there has been a substantial change in circumstance for purposes of child support or alimony, there are some specific factors that the courts look at. To claim a substantial change in circumstance, certain changes must occur including

  • Changes in employment and/or income or earning capacity
  • Changes in medical expenses
  • Changes in the number of dependents
  • Substantial changes in physical, mental, or emotional health of one party.
  • Changes in residence.
  • Remarriage.
  • Changes in the physical, emotional, or educational needs of a child
  • Contempt by one party of existing court orders.
  • Other factors that the court deems relevant.

These factors, even if true, may not be enough to be considered a substantial change in circumstance. You may want to speak with an experienced attorney at Johnson Law Group to discuss whether the change would be considered substantial and what your next steps may be.

What Are Some Additional Factors for a Substantial Change in Circumstances for Child Support?

While the factors listed above are applicable to both child support and alimony, there are two additional factors that are considered for child support alone. To be considered a substantial change for child support, one or both of the following must be true:

  • The court order for child support must vary by 10% or more (increase or decrease) from the amount that would be due if the modification were granted.
  • One parent has a health benefit plan available and the current order for support did not contain provisions for medical support.

Is Your Change Substantial Enough to Modify Your Child Support or Alimony Order?

While child support and alimony may not be someone’s sole sources of financial support, they are often a critical part of the budget. Understanding what constitutes a substantial change in circumstance for purposes of child support or alimony is crucial to ensuring that, whether child support or alimony is increased or decreased, no one is surprised by the change. If you believe you may be able to ask for a modification of child support or alimony based on a substantial change in circumstance, contact Johnson Law Group at (720) 463-4333 to discuss your case and what legal steps you may be able to take next.

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Written by Family Law Attorney Myles S. Johnson
Divorce doesn’t have to be dramatic. For the litigants, losing your spouse is significant enough. But you can choose the way it affects your daily life. The only guarantee I can give is that the feeling that you have right now will not be the feeling you end with. This is a season in your life, and it must be approached that way.
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