Will a Virginia court reduce support obligations for a high income earner who accumulates substantial savings?
Possibly, according to an unpublished opinion by the Virginia Court of Appeals in Trump v. Trump, Record No. 2475-09-4, (Va. App. 2010) where a reduction in husband’s income might have constituted a material change in circumstances justifying a reduction in spousal support and child support, even though the husband was able to save a substantial amount of money each year.
The parties were married for twenty years and separated for nearly two years, before divorcing in 2007. In the final divorce decree, the Virginia Circuit Court ordered husband to pay spousal support of $4,500 per month, and his child support of $1,961 per month, based on income of $21,000per month. A year later, the divorce court judge modified husband’s spousal support obligation to $3,670 and his child support obligation to $1,582 per month.
A year and a half later, the husband filed a motion to modify support further downward. When the trial court heard the evidence, husband testified that his income in 2007 was $21,000 per month, but by 2009 it had decreased to only $17,380 per month. After deliberation, the Virginia Circuit Court judge determined that husband had not undergone a material change in circumstances because he was still able to save almost $100,000 a year. Therefore, the court granted the wife’s motion to strike and dismissed the husband’s motion to modify support.
On appeal, the husband argued that the trial court erred by failing to grant his motion for reduction of his support payments based on his material change of circumstances. The Court of Appeals recognized that the standard for review before a motion to strike requires viewing facts in the most favorable light for the plaintiff. According to James v. City of Falls Church, 280 Va. 31, 694 S.E.2d 568 (2010) (quoting Austin v. Shoney’s Inc., 254 Va. 134, 486 S.E.2d 285 (1997), “[A] trial court is required to accept as true all evidence favorable to a plaintiff and any reasonable inferences that may be drawn from such evidence. ‘The trial court is not to judge the weight and credibility of the evidence, and may not reject any inference from the evidence favorable to the plaintiff unless it would defy logic and common sense.” Under that standard, the court ruled that the trial court erred by concluding that the husband failed to present a prima facie case for a reduction in support based on his change in income. As Virginia Code §20-108 provides, the court may modify a decree of child or spousal support if the party seeking the modification establishes that the material change of circumstances occurred since the last hearing and justified an alteration. See Hiner v. Hadeed, 15 Va. App. 575, 425 S.E.2d 811 (1993). See also Furr v. Furr, 13 Va. App. 479, 413, S.E.2d 72 (1992).
In this case, the Virginia Circuit Court determined that the evidence established that the husband had suffered an income reduction from $21,000 per month in 2007 to $17,380 per month in 2009. Moreover, even though he had an increased income in 2008 because his businesses had conserved cash, his net income had decreased from 2007 to 2009. The appellate court held that the trial court erred by focusing on the 2008 figures and the savings deposits rather than reviewing the evidence in the most favorable light to the husband. As a result, the Court reversed the trial court’s decision and remanded the case for further proceedings.
You should consult with your Virginia divorce lawyer concerning the likely prospects for modifying a support obligation in your case.