When a couple divorces and reaches an agreement on issues such as child support and spousal maintenance, the terms of that agreement are considered final. They can only be changed through a petition to the court arguing that there has been a substantial change in circumstances that warrants a change in financial arrangements. What constitutes a substantial change in circumstances is largely up to the discretion of the court considering the case, and many different factors may be considered. A recent Wisconsin case looks at whether changes in income by one or both parties can justify a change in child support amounts.
E.Y. and M.Y. divorced in 2014. At the time, they had a marital settlement agreement that set forth there terms of custody, child support, and spousal maintenance. E.Y. was required to pay $1200 a month in child support and $600 a month in non-modifiable maintenance payments for six years, or until M.Y. died or remarried. In 2015, E.Y. and M.Y. both moved the court to change the child support payment amounts. The court held a hearing to consider their arguments. At the hearing, M.Y. argued that E.Y.’s income had risen substantially and, as a result, she was entitled to a new calculation of child support benefits. Conversely, E.Y. requested a reduction in payments because he now had a new second family, additional mortgage, and other financial expenses. After considering E.Y.’s new tax returns and the existing child support arrangements, the court issued an order finding that a substantial change in circumstances had occurred because of the significant increase in E.Y.’s income and that, as a result, E.Y.’s child support would be modified to $1,821 a month. E.Y. appealed.
On appeal, E.Y. argued that the lower court erred when it raised his child support payments but failed to consider the entirety of the parties’ changed circumstances. Specifically, he argued that the court should have considered his remarriage, the new child he was expecting, and the increased expenses that he faced as a result of raising two families. Under Wisconsin law, the facts that a court deems relevant when considering a substantial change in circumstances is largely in the discretion of the court and will rarely questioned by an appellate court. For this reason, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals first noted that it was required to give deference to the lower court’s consideration of E.Y.’s circumstances. Second, the Court of Appeals also noted that under Wisconsin law, spouses who remarry are generally considered to have assumed the risk of taking on responsibility for a second family while they still have child support obligations to their first family. Thus, spouses cannot rely on these factors in seeking to avoid their child support and maintenance obligations. Because an increase in income can constitute a substantial change in circumstances under Wisconsin law, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s decision to raise E.Y.’s monthly child support payments based on his new income.
Spouses who are under existing child support and maintenance arrangements must be aware that changes to their circumstances can result in changes to their financial obligations that arose from their divorce. Taking a new job, getting a promotion at work, remarrying, or other circumstances can all result in an increase, or decrease, to child support and maintenance. Additionally, spouses should be aware that to the extent they take on additional obligations to a new spouse or children, any risk or additional strain imposed by such circumstances typically cannot be used to reduce their preexisting responsibilities. If you are a change in circumstances that could increase your income, or your expenses, and may make it difficult for you to satisfy your existing child responsibilities in Wisconsin, you should discuss your options with an experienced Milwaukee family law attorney as soon as possible. To speak with a knowledgeable Milwaukee divorce lawyer today, do not hesitate to contact the law offices of Reddin & Singer, LLP online or give us a call at 414-271-6400.