You and your ex have made the difficult decision to split up, and you've even successfully made it through an amicable divorce and are co-parenting well. But what happens when a few years pass, and one of you starts to feel that the child support amount you previously agreed upon isn't working anymore? The courts know that sometimes situations changes and have created child support modifications for this very reason.
What Is a Child Support Modification?
There are two types of child support modifications. The first is also referred to as a deviation and is a change — either upward or downward — from the amount that would generally be awarded in your situation according to the guidelines/formulas for your state. This happens at the time the support order is first being established. You can find out more about how this is determined by reading our articles on child support orders. However, when most people talk about child support modifications, they're talking about requesting that the amount of child support paid be changed post-divorce.
What Grounds Do You Need?
If you're planning a DIY divorce, and both you and your ex are in agreement on the child support amount, the judge will likely sign off on the it. However, you will have to go through your state's child support enforcement agency to request a modification to the court order, and the agency will have specific requirements you need to meet for it to process your request.
You can technically request a modification to your child support order at any time, but the agency will usually only process and act upon requests after a certain time period has passed, normally a few years. This is to avoid overload on the system from parents constantly taking each other back to court over money. If you are requesting a modification early, you'll usually need to have one or more of the following grounds:
- Your ex's income has changed. Most states have guidelines that the income must have changed by a certain percentage and must have the reasonable expectation of continuing. This means that your ex's unexpected Christmas bonus is likely not grounds for a modification.
- Your income has changed. If you've lost your job or had to take fewer hours due to issues beyond your control, you may be able to ask for a change in the support order. However, this doesn't mean quitting gets you off the child support hook. A reduction in income must be deemed no fault of your own by the court.
- Your child's situation changes. Child support is for the child, so if your child has a change in circumstances/needs that affects you financially, you may be able to request a modification. The most common scenario is a chronic illness that requires ongoing medical treatment or specialized equipment. Your children suddenly deciding they need to take hockey lessons six days a week doesn't count.
- The custody/visitation arrangement has changed. Unless you have a true 50/50 physical custody schedule — in which case there usually is no child support paid by either party — your support order will be impacted at least in part by the amount of time both parties spend with the child. If your original order was based on your ex seeing the kids every other weekend, but they haven't shown up in six months, you may be able to request an upward deviation. Similarly, if you started with an every-other-weekend schedule, and now your ex is taking the kids more often, they can request a downward deviation for time spent.
Keep in mind that the person requesting the modification will need to provide evidence that it's warranted. If you had an amicable divorce, and you're still on good terms with your ex, this is easy. However, if your ex isn't cooperating or doesn't believe that the support amount should be modified, it may not be possible to get pay stubs or other records to show your ex's financial status has changed enough to warrant a modification. If that's your primary grounds for the request, it may mean you have to wait until a without-cause review can be done.
Why Should You Seek a Child Support Modification?
The only reason for seeking a child support modification is to ensure that the children are getting the level of support they need and that it is reflective of the current situation. Child support is designed to make sure that both parents are involved in financially supporting the child and that the children stay at the level of quality of life they would have had if the divorce hadn't happened. Child support should never be used as a way to punish or threaten the other parent.
If you're contemplating an online divorce and you have children, It’s Over Easy offers child support guidelines based on you and your partners' income and expenses.
Go to this page about online divorce to learn more.