How Do I Modify a Child Support Order?

Single parent with 2 children in front of a house

How Do I Modify a Child Support Order?

Although many people assume that a child support order cannot be changed because it is a court-ordered payment plan, it’s actually possible — and very common — for separated parents to make modifications. The purpose of child support is to ensure that both parents pay for the essential needs of their child, and it’s based on what is fair rather than what is equal. When parents’ financial situations change, they might be required to pay more or be allowed to pay less, depending on what the court considers to be a fair contribution to the child’s upbringing. 

Calculating Child Support

The parent who does not have custody of the child is required to pay child support to the custodial parent. When determining the amount that will be paid each month, the court assesses several details in each parent’s life. These include each parent’s earning capacity, current income, current housing, debts, and any financial obligations to other children. The court will then assess the child’s financial needs. 

If the noncustodial parent earns significantly more money than the custodial parent, it’s likely that they’ll be required to pay more in child support, and vice versa. The goal of child support is to ensure that the child has the same financial support as they would if both parents were living together.

Modifying Child Support

It’s possible to modify child support payments if the needs of the child change or if a parent’s ability to make payments changes. Either parent can request a modification on the child support order. Even if both parents come to an agreement on the modification, they must still appear in court and have the modification approved by a judge. If the parents do not agree on the modification, they can request a hearing in court and present their own arguments for modifying (or not modifying) the support order. Once the judge makes a ruling on the modification, both parents are required to follow that ruling. 

Minor and Short-Term Modifications

Just like parents who live together, separated parents are likely to go through unpredictable financial difficulties from time to time. Medical emergencies, vehicle accidents, and sudden job losses are common events that may affect a parent’s ability to pay child support. Parents may request a temporary child support modification from a judge to account for these events. They may also request a temporary change in custody if the custodial parent is unable to care for the child. The parents will likely have to appear in court again if they wish to make any of these temporary changes permanent.

Additionally, it’s possible to create regular modifications to a child support order by including a Cost of Living Adjustment clause in the order. This clause states that the noncustodial parent’s payments will increase or decrease each year, based on whether the cost of living increases or decreases. This clause is fairly standard in many child support orders and is considered minor enough that the parents do not have to appear in front of a judge, as long as they agree on the annual changes. 

Some parents choose to hire their own separate child support lawyers if they cannot agree on payment modifications. However, it’s just as common for parents to consult with a single family law lawyer, such as The Law Office of Daniel J. Wright, who can help them through the modification process if they agree on the changes.