Child Support Modification Tips

Only a court can raise or lower child support payments. Either parent can request the change. The following child support modification tips will help you navigate the modification process and get some peace of mind.

Life events, such as the loss of a job, serious injury, or a change in marital status, sometimes require changing the child support arrangement currently in place. Previously agreed upon or court-ordered child support arrangements prove unfeasible. 

Act Quickly

If you are unable to pay the amount of court-ordered child support you owe each month, take steps now to secure a child support modification order. Unpaid child support cannot be discharged in bankruptcy and generally cannot be reduced retroactively. A noncustodial parent can't avoid their child support obligation by filing for bankruptcy.

Inform Yourself

Look into the child support laws in your state. Learn what constitutes a "substantial change in circumstances" sufficient to warrant a child support modification. Some jurisdictions add the terms "material" or "unforeseen" to this language to qualify the requirements for a modification. Consider contacting the child support enforcement office in your state. They can help navigate you through the procedures. They may be able to direct you to legal resources. Then you can consult a child support attorney in your area for guidance and legal advice.

Try To Reach an Agreement With the Other Parent

See if the custodial parent will agree to modified child support payments. Of course, in many cases, agreement can prove difficult. But given the emotional and financial expense of litigating child support cases, starting the discussion with an eye toward agreement is wise.

Realize that even if the parties reach an agreement, a judge must still approve that agreement, and a court order must formalize in a court order modifying child support. The judge must still follow child support guidelines.

An informal agreement between ex-spouses is not binding on the state agency responsible for collecting child support arrearages. An agreement is not a substitute for an order of modification. The paying parent must continue to pay the amount of child support set in the current child support order, even if the parents come to an agreement.

But a court is likely to strongly consider an agreement the parents have already agreed on. Doing so can also decrease the cost of going to court. Parents may consider mediation as a method to help them reach agreement if it's proving difficult to find common ground.

Keep Making Your Child Support Payments as Best You Can

To the maximum extent possible, keep making the child support payments required under the current child support order. The existing child support order remains in effect unless and until the court issues a new child support order. Pay as much as you can and pay it in the manner specified by the child support order.

Not putting forth your best effort to pay will hurt your argument that new circumstances (rather than lack of effort) require a new amount and will cause unpaid child support to pile up.

Document Your Change in Circumstances

You may have had a job change, a change in parent's income, medical disability, a difference in parenting time (amount of time a parent spends with the child), or other life change. You will need to demonstrate a substantial change in your circumstances. Remember, this change must have occurred after the court entered your existing child support order.

If you have a change in your health and had to pay costly medical expenses, you can document this information. Keep all your medical bills and health insurance information.

If you can't pay all of your child support because you lost your job or earn less money than before, make a serious effort to find new employment and document your attempts. If the information in a child support affidavit has changed, you must update it. File for unemployment if needed. Retain your pay stubs to show the difference in income. Gather all your financial information. Take care to be completely accurate in stating and detailing all the income you bring to your household.

File Your Request for Child Support Modification With the Court

You should file your modification request with the court that issued the child support order currently in place. You can take your modification request to the same court with help from a family law attorney. Or you can get help from your local/state child support services agency in some cases.

Whether both parents agree to a modification, or one parent wants the court to order a change in child support and the other parent opposes it, you will still need a new child support order for the change to take effect. The child support obligation does not change until the support modification case goes forward and the court issues a new support order. The papers you file with the court must also be served on the other parent.

Get Child Support Modification Tips Specific to Your Needs by Talking to a Lawyer

If you're seeking to lower your child support payments because of a job loss or other unexpected circumstances, you'll need to follow the laws and procedures in your state. Get legal help from a professional familiar with family court procedures. Start the process of getting a child support modification order by speaking with a child support lawyer in your area.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Some states allow you to set up child support with forms and court processes
  • You may need legal help to set up or modify child support arrangements
  • If there is conflict, an attorney can advise if the other parent’s actions are legal 

Get tailored advice about paying or receiving child support. Many attorneys offer free consultations.

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Don't Forget About Estate Planning

Once new child support arrangements are in place, it’s an ideal time to create or change your estate planning forms. Take the time to add new beneficiaries to your will and name a guardian for any minor children. Consider creating a financial power of attorney so your agent can pay bills and make sure your children are provided for. A health care directive explains your health care decisions and takes the decision-making burden off your children when they become adults.

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