change of circumstances

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A change of circumstances refers to the showing required by a party seeking to modify a prior child support, spousal support, or custody order. Generally, the change in circumstances must be substantial in nature and due to facts that were unknown or unanticipated when the prior order was issued. In the context of child or spousal support awards, the change of circumstances must relate to the financial needs of the recipient or the financial abilities of the payor. Pennsylvania, for example, allows a support order to be increased or decreased upon a specific showing of material and substantial change in circumstances regarding a party’s income. When modifying custody orders, courts may take into account other non-financial circumstances that affect the child’s best interests. California specifies that final custody orders will only be modified when there has been a change in circumstances such that a new arrangement is best for the child. 

[Last updated in June of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]