How to Modify Child Support Payments

Find out how (and why) a court would order an increase or decrease in child support payments.

By , Attorney

One thing is certain—life is unpredictable. Even the most well-thought out plans for child support may need adjustments over time. 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. If your circumstances change, either parent can ask the court to modify (change) the amount of support, up or down.

This article provides an overview of how to modify child support payments. If you have questions after reading this article, contact a local family law attorney for advice.

How to Win a Child Support Modification Case

If your family's needs have changed, you may wonder, "how can I change child support?" Although child support modification requirements vary from state to state, but generally, in order to change child support payments, the requesting parent will have to show that a substantial change in circumstances has occurred since the support order was issued. A substantial change in circumstances might be one parent's major salary increase, a change in the child's needs (such as medical or educational expenses), or a parent's involuntary job loss.

Many parents ask, "does child support increase if my salary increases?" It depends. A "substantial change in circumstances" is not a temporary change. For example, if a parent gets a large bonus for working overtime during Christmas, that salary increase is temporary and probably won't mean an increase in child support. On the other hand, if a parent works in a struggling industry and takes an involuntary pay cut, a judge may decrease that parent's child support obligation. By contrast, if one parent quits a job or takes a low-paying job to reduce his or her support obligation, a judge won't modify the deadbeat parent's support obligation.

Making your Child Support Modification Official

Parents can reach their own agreements on child support, but it's still essential to get court approval for any child support modification. The parent who wants to change child support must file a change request with the court and get an order specifying the new support amount. Otherwise, the original child support order remains in place and the other parent could enforce the original child 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. If a judge agrees that the change in support is based on a substantial change in circumstances and serves the child's best interests, the court will generally approve the change without a hearing.

When parents can't agree on a support modification, they'll have to argue their case in court. A judge will hear evidence and decide whether a change in child support is appropriate. This means additional court costs and attorney's fees.

How to Fight a Child Support Increase

If your ex is seeking to increase child support, you'll need to show that a change in support is inappropriate. Your ex has the burden of proving that there's been a substantial change in circumstances which justifies a child support increase. However, you may need to show the court that either the change is temporary (like a one-time bonus or hazard pay) or that the change isn't substantial. For example, a slight pay bump or your remarriage, may not be enough to justify a change in child support.

Common Reasons a Child Support Order May Be Decreased

There are many reasons for modifying child support up or down. Sometimes child support awards may need to be decreased. For example, if you have had several children with a new spouse since your original support order was issued, a judge may agree to reduce child support based on those additional expenses. When a parent loses a job because of a company's downsizing, the job loss is outside that parent's control. If the unemployed parent can't find a job with equivalent pay, a judge may lower child support to reflect the parent's current earnings.

Getting Help

If your child's other parent won't agree to adjust support, you'll probably end up in court. Judges are often unwilling to make changes to child support unless the petitioner (parent asking for the change) has a good argument showing that the change is in the child's best interests.

The court process for modifying child support can be complex. If you're unsure about the steps to take in your case, you should consult with an experienced family law attorney who can advise you of your rights and, if necessary, represent your interests in court.

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