Child support is generally awarded once and carried on indefinitely until the child becomes an adult, and 18 years is a long time. Child support modification is possible, but orders cannot be changed for just any reason.
Factors that go into Child Support
Every state has its own way of calculating child support, but they all consider similar factors. One important factor is the needs of the child. This includes things like health insurance, education, daycare and other special needs. Perhaps the most important factor is the income of each parent, though.
Most states are trying to make sure that a child of a split household is getting care similar to what that child would get if the parents were together.
The state typically has guidelines that are calculated using salaries and other factors and then a judge can either order the guideline amount or alter it for some reason that he or she feels is important but not captured by the guidelines.
Getting the right income
States all define income a little bit differently, but it is very important to make sure the court assumes a fair income. For example, let’s say the father is a salesman that typically makes $50,000 in salary and commissions per year. If he has a huge year and makes $150,000 because of commissions, he would want the court to calculate his annual earnings closer to $50,000.
The parties will often have to argue over the right income amount, and a good lawyer can help.
The judge may have to exercise some judgment and estimate what the relative earnings will be in the future.
Periodic reviews are allowed
Most states guarantee each side an opportunity to have the court review the child support award every three years. Usually, this is a simple process, and both sides will often bring in their most recent tax return and let the court slightly adjust the order to reflect changed salaries.
The parents may also just forgo the review.
In other cases, a review can be much more contentious. The parents could attack each other for failing to follow various other orders, like the visitation schedules. Each parent may also try to game the system by making their earnings seem lower than they should be.
Substantial change in circumstances
In between the scheduled periodic reviews, child support modification usually only occurs if there has been a substantial change in circumstances. The courts cannot make adjustments for every little thing. A common substantial change is one parent moving, for example. Another would be a major health issue that requires a change in the custody arrangement.
Perhaps the most common is the parent paying support losing his or her job. If support is calculated while that parent, usually a non-custodial father, is gainfully employed then the father will probably not be able to make the same payments after he loses his job.
Some states list specific changes in earnings, like 20%, that will automatically be viewed as a substantial change in circumstances. So a parent getting a big raise could be enough to allow a review.