Is a Support Order Modifiable?

By Myron J. Mensh, Attorney at Law

Published:  July 17, 2004
In Florida, a judgment once entered is final 30 days after it is recorded in the public records, including a judgment that orders a person to pay spousal or child support. A final judgment that sets specific amounts of support, either for a spouse or a child, or both, payable in periodic payments in the future, is modifiable under certain restricted conditions.

Since the order to pay support is a continuing duty that becomes a vested right with each periodic payment date that it is due, this type of order may be altered or amended if there is a substantial and material change of circumstances that was unforeseen at the time the judgment was entered. Thus, if a person ordered to pay support suffers a sudden and unexpected loss of the ability to earn the same amount of regular income, that person may be entitled to reduce the amount of periodic support payments.

A reduction cannot take effect prior to the date a request for a modification is filed with the Court, as each payment becomes a vested right to the receiver when it is due. It is therefore critical to timely file a request for reduction.

Similarly, if there is a substantial, material and unexpected change of circumstances after entry of a support judgment that increases the ability of the payer of support to provide a fair share of support, the amount may be increased. For example, if a payer were to win the lottery and suddenly have great wealth, the recipient could petition to increase the amount of support.

As all other states, Florida has certain guidelines for the establishment of child support, and if a calculation of child support [not spousal support] shows a difference of 15% or $50 in the amount of each periodic payment, whichever amount is greater, the guidelines themselves may provide a basis for proving a substantial change in circumstances upon which a modification of an existing order may be changed. There are different rules if the Department of Revenue is involved in enforcing the support order.

There are no statutory guidelines for spousal support, and this type of obligation is based on the needs of the recipient and the ability of the payer to provide support. Once this obligation is established by a final judgment, the ability to change it may be more restricted than to change child support. Usually, spousal support ends when the recipient marries or dies or when the payer dies; otherwise, there are substantial restrictions imposed by case law in changing this obligation.

In summary, once a judgment to provide support becomes final it is conclusive as to the issues it covers. If a subsequent, unanticipated event occurs that makes it unfair to continue the existing on-going support order, the payment of on-going periodic support may be changed by application to the Court having jurisdiction.