In Law, what is a Change of Circumstances?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 25 January 2020
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A change of circumstances is something which causes a court to reevaluate a decision made about alimony, child custody, or child support. It can also be a situation which causes a government agency to reconsider a benefits award, such as a disability check. The change in circumstances can be positive or negative, but it is significant enough to have an impact on someone's life. For example, if someone receiving disability payments inherits a large amount of money, this is a change of circumstances which would cause the disability allowance to be reduced.

People often use this term in reference to situations in which people go to court to request changes to a child custody or alimony agreement. Changes in circumstances can include things like changes in income, relocating to a different area, or remarrying. Becoming ill or disabled, being involved in a legal case involving abuse or molestation, or failing to look out for a child's welfare could also be considered a change of circumstances.


In the case of child custody agreements, the primary concern is the welfare of the child. If a change in circumstances would have a detrimental impact on a child's welfare, it must be evaluated to determine if the child support and child custody agreements need to change. Sometimes, both parties would like a change; for example, if one parent is relocating and both parents agree that the child should remain with the parent who is not moving, this is a change of circumstances. The parents can explain the situation and ask to have the agreement altered.

In other cases, only one parent wants a change. A parent receiving child support might ask for higher payments when the parent who is paying gets a better job, for example, arguing that the change of circumstances should result in higher child support payments. In these situations, the parent who wants to change the terms of custody or support agreements must provide compelling evidence for the court.

Alimony can also be adjusted to account for a change in circumstances. Generally, remarrying causes alimony to end automatically, unless prior arrangements were made. While alimony payments are still required, people can also apply for reductions or increases. This might be done when someone paying alimony loses a job or is unable to work, or when the person who is required to pay alimony starts earning more money. Information documenting the change of circumstances is brought to the court for a judge to review, and the judge decides whether or not the alimony should be adjusted, given the available information.


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