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What Is A “Substantial Change In Circumstances?”


When a divorce or custody case is finalized, the order entered in the appropriate court includes all the relevant issues like child support and alimony (in the case of a divorce only). Thereafter, events in your life may necessitate a modification of the support order; however, doing so is not easy.  In order to make a modification, Nevada law states that you must be able to show a “substantial change in circumstances.”

The Process

Generally, when the obligor wants to modify their child support or alimony payment, they can begin the process by filing a motion with the relevant court for modification. While the temptation can be great to try and relitigate issues you were dissatisfied with when your divorce was originally pending, the only issue that will be open to modification will be that of alimony or child support (whichever you are petitioning to modify). You must be able to show that the “significant” change in circumstances has taken place in order to qualify for the modification.

One type of significant change in circumstances is specifically defined in Nevada law states. The statute holds that for a change to be significant, it should amount to at least a 20 percent change in the income. In addition, if the obligor’s income level has been “reduced to such a level that the spouse is financially unable to pay the amount of alimony” previously agreed upon, a modification is likely to be made, but there does not need to be a showing of abject poverty – merely that the circumstances have changed to the point where the previously agreed-upon amount is no longer tenable.

Willful Underemployment

Most of the time, if you are able to show evidence of an adverse event in your life which impacts your financial condition, such as a pay cut, you stand a good chance of getting the modification in alimony or child support that you seek. However, some people attempt to get their support obligations lowered by voluntarily reducing their income, increasing their necessary expenses, or in extreme circumstances, even quitting or being fired. If the court determines that you have done this, the court will impute income to you – in other words, it will assign support obligations as if you are still at your previous financial status. Nevada jurisprudence also establishes a presumption that if someone is willfully underemployed, it is because they wish to avoid support obligations.

If you are willfully underemployed for another reason (for example, to take care of an ill friend or family member), you must be able to show enough evidence to rebut that presumption, or your modification request will fail, because the state does not want to reward bad-faith. Conversely, if you are able to show that you are not willfully underemployed, but experienced a pay cut or were fired for other reasons, the court is likely to treat that as circumstances beyond your control and grant the modification.

Seek Experienced Legal Help

Seeking modification of your support order can feel like an uphill battle, but having a knowledgeable attorney on your side can help shoulder the burden. The dedicated attorneys at the Kainen Law Group have experience with these types of cases, and are ready, willing and hopefully able to put it to work for you. Call the office today to set up an initial consultation.



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