One thing is certain - life is unpredictable. Even the most well-thought out plans for child support may prove unsuccessful. So what happens when the child support amount you’ve been getting no longer covers your child's basic needs? You go back to court.
Once a child support order is issued, either parent may request that a court modify (change) the amount of support, either up or down. Although either parent can ask a court to modify child support, this article will focus on increasing child support payments.
Show a Substantial Change in Circumstances
Although the specific requirements vary from state to state, generally in order to increase (or decrease) child support payments, the requesting parent will have to prove that after the existing order was put in place, a substantial change in circumstances occurred, such as a change in the child's needs, an increase in salary, or the involuntary loss of a job.
Some of the most common reasons for child support increases include:
- A substantial increase in the non-custodial parent’s (paying parent) income, usually 10% or more - courts consider it in the best interests of the child to live in reasonably equal circumstances when residing in either parent’s home.
- A substantial decrease in the custodial parent’s income, again, usually 10% or more. In a difficult economy, if a custodial parent involuntarily loses a job (through no fault of his or her own), the custodial parent may require a substantial increase in child support, at least temporarily.
- A substantial increase in the child’s needs, including medical expenses, educational expenses, age-related expenses, or cost-of-living increases.
Substantial changes like these should not be based on intentional actions by either parent. For example, if the custodial parent quits a job or takes a substantial pay cut voluntarily, that is generally not considered a qualified reason for increasing support payments from the other parent.
Make your Child Support Modification Official
It’s essential to get court approval for any child support modification. The parent who wants to change child support must go to court and get an order specifying the new amount. Otherwise, the original child support order will be the only official record of the amount owing.
Even if you and your child's other parent have entered into a verbal or written agreement between yourselves about modifying child support and have agreed to a new amount, you must go to court and ask a judge to approve your agreement and issue a new order reflecting your terms. While parents may agree to change child support and decide that a verbal agreement is sufficient, if their relationship deteriorates, the parent that accepted the changes requested by the other may renege on the agreement, and ask the court to invoke the original support order.
In addition, courts won’t enforce verbal child support agreements. If the paying parent falls behind, and the custodial parent asks a judge to help collect support payments, the court will invoke the original support order.
In most states, turning your agreement into a modified child support order may be as simple as filling out the proper forms and submitting them to the court for a small fee. If the requested change to support is in the child's best interests and based on a substantial change in circumstances, the court will generally approve it without a hearing.
If the parents can't agree, they will have to argue their cases in court, which means incurring additional court costs and attorney's fees.
If your child's other parent will not agree to your requested change, you will probably end up in court. Judges are often unwilling to make changes to child support unless the petitioner (asking parent) presents a good argument for the change being in the child’s best interests.
Court procedures can be complex and require some legal experience. If you find yourself in this position, you should consult with an experienced family law attorney who can advise you of your rights and, if necessary, represent your interests in court.