Husband could request decrease in child support after change in income
The precise wording of marital settlement agreements can be crucial, as the recent Wisconsin Court of Appeals case of Reetz v. Reetz demonstrates.
December 17, 2013 /24-7PressRelease/ -- Husband could request decrease in child support after change in income
Article provided by Jacobson Legal Group, S.C.
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In traditional divorce proceedings, a couple may reach a marital settlement agreement, which may then be incorporated into the judgment of the divorce. Such an agreement may specify many items, such as under what circumstances either party may move to modify child support payments.
The precise wording of such agreements can be crucial, as the recent Wisconsin Court of Appeals case of Reetz v. Reetz demonstrates.
A drop in the husband's income
The couple was divorced after a nine-year marriage and had two children. The terms of the divorce were set forth in a marital settlement agreement which set the husband's child support obligation at $2,700 per month.
A section of the marital settlement agreement specified the circumstances under which the husband or wife could seek to modify child support and specifically stated that: "Child support shall not be reviewed and modified unless there is a very substantial change in income or employment of the parties[.] For any loss of employment it will only be considered if it is through no fault of the party with the employment loss." The circuit court approved the marital settlement agreement.
At the time of the divorce, the husband owned a funeral home and his yearly net income was approximately $165,000. Several years later, the husband closed the funeral home and filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, finding employment as the director of another funeral home at an annual income of $50,000.
The husband moved to modify his child support obligation based on his decreased income. At the hearing, the wife argued that the pertinent section of the agreement barred the husband from seeking to modify his child support obligation because his job loss was not "through no fault" of his own. The circuit court agreed, denying the husband's motion to modify his child support obligation, and the husband appealed.
Interpreting the settlement agreement
The Wisconsin Court of Appeals noted that the pertinent section of the agreement provided the husband or wife could seek to modify their child support obligation if there was a very substantial change in income "or" employment of the parties. The court felt that the placement of the word "or" between "change in income" and "employment" in this clause was significant.
The court stated that this section unambiguously set forth two alternative circumstances: either a showing of a very substantial change in income, or a showing of a very substantial change in employment, and the "through no fault" qualification did not apply to both. The "no fault" qualification applied only to the loss in employment provision and did not apply to the income provision.
Thus, because the husband had suffered a loss of income, and the "through no fault" provision did not apply to that circumstance, the circuit court's order denying the requested modification of child support was reversed.
Make informed decisions
Whether you are seeking a traditional divorce, or exploring alternative options such as collaborative divorce, it is important that any settlement agreement reflects the mutual understanding between the parties. Seek an experienced family law attorney who can guide you through the process and provide objective legal advice to help you make informed decisions regarding your family and your future.
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