Can You Modify Child Support Payments?

Did you assume that once a judge has decided on the child support payments that they are fixed in stone?

In most cases, it’s true that they will remain in place but what happens if your ex-spouse gets a major promotion or you lose your job?

Surely that changes the financial picture on which the child support decisions were based?

It does – but it’s no small task to get a child support order amended to reflect these changes.

How to go about it is explained below.


When can a child support order be amended?

Child support agreements are legally binding court orders that must be followed by divorced couples.

However, they can be changed if circumstances for either (or both) parents change permanently.  Of course, addressing these changes will require a lawyer such as the experienced divorce lawyers at Colorado Legal Group.  

The mistake that some noncustodial parents make is believing that:

  • They can independently modify payments without a new court order
  • Because their circumstances have changed, they no longer need to make the same payments
  • They don’t have to make payments if their ex-spouse denies them access to the children
  • A period of sickness or leave from work justifies a change in child support payments

None of the above is true. 

In fact, actions such as these are liable to get you in trouble with state and federal laws on child support.

For child support payments to be modified in the U.S., a new court order must be made. For the court to decide on a modification, it will need to be satisfied that the material changes in circumstances are substantial and more than temporary (ongoing or permanent).

In short, child support obligations do not change until a court says so.

A substantial change in financial circumstance can affect either the custodial or non-custodial parent (or both) and may involve situations such as:

  • Loss of a job or demotion (and therefore an ongoing change in income) for the custodial/noncustodial parent
  • Significant promotion and pay rise (ongoing change in income) for custodial/noncustodial parent
  • A change in medical, dental, daycare or insurance requirements of the child(ren)
  • A child born after the original child support order is made 

In general, a “substantial change” to income is considered to have occurred if there is a 10 percent or greater change.

Note that the court is duty-bound to put the upbringing of the children first so that their needs are cared for until they reach the age of 18 (in most cases). 

If a child support modification will negatively affect the interests of the children and is not deemed absolutely necessary, it will not be granted.

Note also that you cannot request a modification of child support if your monthly expenses have increased due to purchases or investments that you have made. 


How do you amend a child support order in the U.S.?

Amendments to child support payments require the necessary legal steps. They never happen automatically.

You will likely need a family law attorney to guide you on whether you qualify for a modification and how to navigate the legal process.

Depending on your circumstances, you can either file for a stipulation or a motion to modify child support.

You may file for a stipulation when both parents agree to modify the existing child support order. A motion is usually filed where there is no agreement about changing the agreement.

Applying for a modification to child support payments starts with contacting the court that ordered the child support or the Child Support Enforcement office in your county. 

You will need to submit the updated financial documentation to justify your request and demonstrate that your circumstances have substantially changed. You will usually need to make a sworn financial statement about your current assets, debts, and income. 

If you file a motion to modify your child support, a court appearance may be necessary. This will depend on your judge, who must decide whether to:

  • Review your motion
  • Schedule a hearing
  • Decide the matter without a hearing

Note that the process becomes more complicated if you or your spouse/children have moved state but it is still possible.


When do the new child support payments apply?

Child support orders generally last until they are modified or the child reaches the age of emancipation or “age of majority.” 

This is 18 years old in most (but not all) states.

There are also exceptions to the age of majority rule, based on the financial or educational circumstances of the child. 

However, at the age of 21 years, all children in the U.S. are considered “emancipated” and will not receive child support any longer, regardless of circumstances or which state they reside in.

After modification, the new child support payments will be applied to the date of filing for the motion. The changes cannot generally be applied retroactively beyond this date (for instance, to the date that a non-custodial parent lost his or her job).


Do you qualify for a modification of child support?

There is no limit to the number of times a child support order can be modified.

However, remember that in each case, there must be:

  • A substantial and continuing change in circumstances
  • At least a 10 percent change in income
  • No detrimental effect on the health and wellbeing of the children

If you think that a modification to child support may be justified in your case, speak to your divorce attorney or family lawyer for advice.


The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The World Financial Review.