While a child support agreement is usually pretty firm, there are situations where modifications are made at a later date. The question is, when do you pursue a child support modification? And what is the most appropriate way to do it?
What is a Child Support Modification?
A child support order is a legal document that’s filed through the court and determines precisely how much money one parent is required to pay another parent in a separation or divorce. Every state has its own guidelines and calculations.
Child support can be triggered in any number of ways, but is usually paid to the parent with primary physical custody. However, it can also be brought on when one parent has a significantly larger income than the other.
The basic idea behind child support is that minor children raised by separated parents should be entitled to the same level of financial support that they would have received in a two-parent household.
For the most part, child support figures are set in stone…until they aren’t. While not exactly common, situations may arise where one parent is no longer able to meet the financial obligations or where the parent on the receiving end needs more financial help.
“Once a child support order or agreement is in place, the payment amount may be increased or decreased under certain circumstances,” FindLaw explains. “If a parent’s earning ability or a child’s financial needs have changed – that could conceivably be enough to trigger a modification.”
Common Reasons for a Change in Child Support
If you’re going to request a child support modification, you’ll have to show that there’s been a significant change in circumstances since the original order was issued by the court. You’ll also have to prove that the change:
- Was not anticipated at the time of the existing support order
- Is not temporary; and
- Is substantial (meaning it would require a change of at least 10 to 20 percent in the amount of support owed)
In other words, you can’t frivolously ask for a modification just because you got a small pay cut or your ex-spouse found a new job making an extra $100 a week.
“Child support is calculated differently in every state,” divorce attorney Rowdy G. Williams explains. “Factors usually include each parent’s income, educational expenses, healthcare, and work-related costs. If you’re going to ask for a modification, there has to be a really good reason for it.”
Here are several common reasons people request a modification:
- Increased Income
If income increases significantly, it can affect child support payments. This can occur on both sides. For example, if the parent who owes child support payments sees their salary double, they may be required to make a larger payment to the other parent. On the flip side, if the parent receiving the payments has a significant increase in income, the other parent may request a modification to pay a lesser amount.
- Involuntary Reduction in Income
If there’s been an involuntary reduction in income – meaning you were laid off, fired, had your hours significantly reduced, or you can no longer work because of a disability – this will most likely result in some sort of reduction in the amount of child support you owe.
- Change in Parenting Time
Sometimes there’s a change in the amount of time each parent spends physically supporting the children. For example, if one parent moves away and goes from taking care of the children two days per week to two days per month, a modification may be necessary to help the other parent handle this increased burden.
- Change in Number of Children Being Supported
If a parent only has one child at the time child support is originally calculated, but now has two other children with a new partner, it could impact the amount of support required.
- Change in the Child’s Needs
When talking about modifications, most of the emphasis is on the parents and their financial situation. However, sometimes a change in the child’s needs can necessitate a modification.
For example, consider a child who is in a serious car accident and suffers a permanent disability that requires extensive and long-term care. A modification would most likely need to be made in this situation.
Adding it All Up
As you can see, there are several legitimate reasons why someone would request a child support modification. However, this isn’t an exhaustive list by any means. Every state, situation, and circumstance is different. If you believe you have a reasonable need for a modification, you may want to contact a child support modification attorney to get a qualified opinion.