Child Support Law

Can A Child Support Order Be Changed Or Modified?

If you're paying or receiving child support payments, a judge likely calculated those amounts as part of a court order. But what if the calculations they used don't reflect the realities of your situation? What if the amount was less than what you actually need or more than you can afford? Or perhaps your life circumstances have changed and you're making less money, or the other parent is now making more money? Can an existing child support order be changed or modified?

The good news is that yes, every state allows some form of child support modification, or change. But the extent of what can be changed, how it can be changed, and when it can be changed, may vary from state to state.

How Is Child Support Calculated?

Each state calculates child support based on their own child support guidelines, usually factoring in one parent's income or the income of both parents, though some classify "income" in different ways. In most states, your income will include:

  • Salary and wages
  • Bonuses and commissions
  • Unemployment benefits
  • Certain types of Social Security benefits
  • Interests and dividends
  • Gifts and prizes

Certain deductions, commonly alimony payments, mandatory union dues, or child support orders for other children, will be subtracted from what is considered your income.

Each jurisdiction will use different formulas or guidelines to determine what the child support amount should be based on the incomes of both parents. The amounts will also usually be affected by the specifics of your custody arrangements, based on which parent has longer periods of parenting time or visitation, or if physical custody is shared relatively equally.

What If I Can't Afford My Child Support Payments?

In nearly every state, the child support amount the court decided on will be "presumed correct," based on what the state has determined is appropriate for the child's needs. That is, your child support payment amounts will be treated as fair and manageable unless you request a modification based on a substantial change.

It's possible for these calculations to miss the mark on what you can actually afford to pay or receive. If you're unable to live off the remains of your income after your child support is paid, you can petition the court for a modification.

Many states have income thresholds that allow for certain low-income earners to pay a reduced amount of child support. These income thresholds are often based on the federal poverty guidelines, but each state approaches this issue differently.

Can Child Support Change If My Income Changes?

Generally speaking, yes, your child support order could change if your income, or the other parent's income, changes. In most states:

  • If you pay child support and your income goes up, the other parent can petition for your payments to increase.
  • If you receive child support payments and your income goes up, the other parent can petition for their payments to decrease.
  • If you pay child support and your income goes down, you can petition for the amount of support payments to decrease.
  • If you receive child support and your income goes down, you can petition for their payments to increase.

In most states, this won't happen automatically, the parent who wants the child support modification will need to request. Your child support order or child support amount may also change based on a change in health insurance, medical support, child care or unexpected additional child-related expenses.

How Do I Get My Child Support Payments Modified?

The exact process for getting your current child support order modified, or your options for getting a modification, will depend on your state. In nearly every jurisdiction, you'll need to petition the courts and go before a judicial officer again. In some circumstances, you can modify your child support obligation without going through the court process, but those circumstances are generally pretty limited.

To help you navigate changing a child support order in court, or to find out more about your eligibility for child support modifications, you should contact a local child support lawyer to get legal advice specific to your circumstances. An experienced child support or family law attorney can help you navigate the process of child support modification, represent you at hearings, get you a new order, and potentially get you a better outcome for your child support case.