Child Support Modification FAQ

You can never erase your child support obligation. But a child support modification allows you to pay the child support amount that is in sync with the current situation.


Child support payments are based on several factors, including:

  • Child support guidelines
  • Each parent's income, earning potential, and housing situation
  • The child's needs

However, situations can change at a moment's notice. You might experience a job loss or a promotion. Child support modification is always an option after your financial situation changes. The following answers some of the most frequently asked questions about modifying a child support order.

  • The existing child support order seems unfair to me. Can I change it?
  • How do I change my child support order?
  • I have a short-term emergency. Can I change the child support order temporarily?
  • What types of circumstances would result in a permanent child support order modification?
  • Is there a way to modify my child support order without going before a judge?
  • I changed jobs. My current income is a lot less than it was when I got divorced. My ex and I have agreed to a lower child support amount. Can I start paying this amount immediately?
  • How can I find experienced, local professional help with my child support case?

The Existing Child Support Order Seems Really Unfair to Me. Can I Change It?

Yes, it's possible to change child support orders. A parent can ask the court to increase or decrease the amount of child support. Either the parent receiving child support or the non-custodial parent may request a modification. A child support modification becomes official only via a court order. For any terms to be modified, even if both parents agree, a judge must approve an agreement or change the original order.

How Do I Change My Child Support Order?

You must request a modification from the same court that granted the child support order using the procedures required in your state. The state law varies. Even if you and the child's other parent have agreed on a modification of child support on your own, and even if you have that agreement in writing, you still must go before a judge before the child support order can be changed.

For child support modification tips, see this article. Consult with a qualified child support attorney if you want help to request a modification.

If, as it often happens, you and your child's other parent can't agree on child support, you have to request a hearing in front of a judge where you will both be allowed to make arguments about your proposed modification of child support.

In general, family law doesn't allow for child support modification unless at least one parent can show a substantial change in circumstances that makes the child support modification necessary. This often happens when one parent loses their job or gets a new job where they make less money.

You can offer up your current financial information to show a substantial change. You'll want to show that circumstances have changed since you made a child support affidavit for the initial child support order.

Unfortunately, divorce can be a messy ordeal. Judges take great care to ensure the divorce process doesn't harm the children. This is why the law favors keeping child support orders stable and doesn't allow modification at a whim. The modification process is deliberate for this reason.

I Have a Short-Term Emergency. Can I Change the Child Support Order Temporarily?

Yes, modifications can be permanent or temporary, depending on the circumstances. Temporary modifications of child support can be granted due to temporary situations, such as a child's medical emergency, the temporary loss of employment by one parent, or a medical emergency of one parent.

A temporary modification of child support can also be associated with a temporary change of child custody if one parent must be in the hospital for an extended period. For example, you can make a modification request if you were hurt in a car accident. And then you were hospitalized for several months. You can document all this with your medical bills showing that your medical insurance did not cover all the costs.

What Types of Circumstances Would Result in a Permanent Child Support Order Modification?

A permanent modification of child support arrangements is generally granted when one parent's position changes in a permanent manner. For instance, if one parent obtains a higher-paying job, their respective income increases. This could, in turn, increase their monthly child support payments.

Other examples of situations that could result in permanent modification of child support orders include changes in family law regarding child support, a permanent disability of one parent, the needs of the child, or a job change of one parent.

An example of a change in the child's needs could be that their medical condition has changed such that they need additional medical support not covered by their health insurance. Or a professional has diagnosed them with a condition that requires more special child care.

You can also get a child support modification when the time the parent spends with the child changes. Child support connects with physical custody. If any of this changes, it can impact child support. Let the court know of important changes, like when the parent lives with a child for less time than they used to.

Is There a Way To Modify My Child Support Order Without Going Before a Judge?

Yes, there may be, depending upon the language of your order. Some judges include a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) clause in all child support orders they issue. These clauses make it so that child support payments change each year according to the increase or decrease in the annual cost of living. An economic indicator, like the Consumer Price Index, normally determines this amount.

If a COLA clause is included in your child support order, you don't need to go before a judge to change the payment amount based on an increase or decrease in the cost of living.

I Changed Jobs. My Current Income Is a Lot Less Than it Was When I Got Divorced. My Ex and I Have Agreed to a Lower Child Support Amount. Can I Start Paying This Amount Immediately?

No. A court must officially issue a child support modification. Without that, your agreement is not legally binding. Until that happens, you must pay the ordered amount in the current support order. You can pay the new amount when the judge issues the new child support order.

How Can I Find Experienced, Local Professional Help With My Child Support Case?

You may be eligible to get legal help with your state child support services. But you might prefer to consult with a private attorney. Quality legal advice and representation generally come at a cost, but that expertise can save you money in the long run and provide peace of mind. When it comes to the well-being of your child, it's a worthwhile investment. Check FindLaw's child support modification attorneys directory by state, city, or metropolitan 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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