Before You Ask for a Child Support Modification

How to request a child support modification

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Parents who struggle to pay child support—or who are owed outstanding child support payments—typically have valid questions around child support modification processes. For example, you may be wondering: Can child support be modified? If so, how? And under what circumstances? Does it matter which parent requests it? If you're plagued by these types of questions, here's the child support modification information you need: 

When to Request a Child Support Modification

Generally, the courts will only consider child support modification when there is a substantial change in either the obligor's income or the child's need. If you're the parent who owes child support, you might be considered eligible for a child support modification following a job loss or change in income. On the other hand, if you're the parent who receives child support on behalf of your child, you might be eligible for a child support modification if your child's education costs or extraordinary medical expenses have gone up considerably in recent months.

Be advised, though, that some states put a limit on how often they will reconsider child support awards. For example, they might only review modification requests for each case every 24 months. So if they adjusted your child support amount 18 months ago, that would mean you'd have to wait another six months before submitting your modification request.

Child Support Modification Tips for Custodial Parents

If you're the custodial parent, you should request a child support modification only when you believe either that your ex's income has increased significantly since the order was originated or there has been a substantial increase in your child's financial needs (for example, due to a medical condition or other unforeseen circumstances).

Be careful not to request a child support modification for reasons the court might consider insignificant, especially if your jurisdiction limits the frequency of modification evaluations. You don't want to blow an 'every-three-years' modification request on your ex's relatively insubstantial cost-of-living raise only to find that twelve months down the road your child's education or medical expenses unexpectedly go up.

Child Support Modification Tips for Non-Custodial Parents

If you're a non-custodial parent paying child support, you should only request a child support modification when you experience a significant decrease in income. You should know from the outset that the courts will investigate your request thoroughly, and will compare your current income to the money you were earning when the original child support order was established. If the difference between the two is not what the court considers 'substantial,' your request will likely be denied.

How to Request a Child Support Modification

Once you are ready to file your request, you should reach out to the Child Support Enforcement Office in the state where the original child support order was issued. Upon contacting the agency, you'll need to file a formal motion requesting a modification due to a change in circumstances.