Child Support Modification

For instance, if a child's needs have changed or a parent's income has changed, that may be enough to alter the child support order (called a child support modification).

When you have an existing child support order, you can request that the court increase or decrease the child support payments. The family court judge will consider whether to grant the request based on whether there is a “substantial change" in circumstances. 

What if I Can't Make My Child Support Payments?

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. As a paying parent, you need to put forth your best effort to pay. If you don't, it hurts your argument that new circumstances (rather than lack of effort) require a new amount. It will cause unpaid child support to pile up.

Ways To Modify Child Support Orders

Like all child support issues, your options depend on the specific state law. You must have a child support order before you can get a modification. Typically, you have a few options for the modification process. You can request a modification with the help of your local or state family court facilitator or a private attorney. You likely will pay a filing fee. Or your local child support agency can review your case. You should have a court order before the agency can assist you in most cases. Sometimes the child support services agency in your area can give you a referral for an attorney. It depends. Check it out to be sure.

Reasons for Child Support Modification

You can't modify the support obligation unless the court finds that there was a “substantial change" in your circumstances. Here are reasons to modify your child support order:

  • You are fired or laid off from your job
  • You got a new job with different wages
  • You got an additional job
  • Your income or the other parent's income changes (increase or decrease)
  • Your child's needs have changed
  • Your family size changes (a different number of children to support)
  • You become incarcerated (jail or prison)
  • You become disabled
  • You become deployed for active military duty

What Information To Submit for Modification

You must provide information to the court or the child support agency before they grant you a modification. This is mostly financial information. But you must provide contact information to reach you, like a phone number. You may need to show the following proof:

  • Current income and expenses
  • Retirement income
  • Child care/day care expenses
  • Health care/health insurance expenses
  • Prison or jail status
  • Disability status
  • Current child custody agreements, visitation arrangements, and parenting time

Modifying Child Support Without Going to Court

It is possible to have your child support order modified without having to go to court, but only in very limited circumstances. Some judges include a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) clause in all the child support orders they issue. These clauses make it so the amount of support changes each year in accord with the increase or decrease of the annual cost of living. This amount is normally determined by an economic indicator, like the Consumer Price Index. If a COLA clause is included in your child support order, you don't need to go before a judge to modify the payment amount based on an increase or decrease in the cost of living.

Make Sure You File With the Right Court

File your request for child support modification with the appropriate court. You should file it with the court which issued the child support order currently in place. Whether both parents agree to a modification or one parent wants the court to order a child support modification, you will need a new child support order issued by the appropriate court for changed child support requirements to take effect. The papers you file with the court must also be served on the other parent.

A Family Law Lawyer Can Help

The law surrounding the modification of child support is complicated. Plus, the facts of each child support case are unique. Technically speaking, you do not have to have a lawyer when filing a child support modification action.

You can go to a self-help center to do it on your own. However, having representation is highly recommended when your case is complicated or highly contentious (i.e., you have a big fight on your hands), or when the other side has an attorney. If the parties are in complete agreement, you could always have an attorney review your paperwork (as opposed to representing you throughout the matter). Contact a child support attorney today.

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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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