They say life is short, but many split households find life to be quite long. As a child grows up his or her support needs will often change. Parents also change, and their finances can be completely upended by a big promotion or layoffs at work. When these changes occur, it is probably time to make a request for child support modification.
Child support basics
The law can force parents to provide financial support for their children. Most commonly, this occurs when parents get divorced or when a child is born to parents that are not in a romantic relationship. The parent that has custody of the child may be able to receive financial support from the non-custodial parent.
In some cases of joint custody the parent that makes more money can also be made to pay support to the other parent, just to even things out The amount of support is usually calculated based on the income of the parents. Generally, a parent that makes more will have to pay more for support.
These orders usually last from the present day until the child turns 18.
Planned periodic reviews
Federal law requires the states to give parents a periodic opportunity to modify the orders. Most commonly, states give parents a guaranteed opportunity to review their order every three years. One parent or the other will need to request a review, and then both sides will generally give the court updated information on their earnings.
This is often a very straightforward process and for most parents requires nothing more than last year’s tax returns. If a parent has a fluctuating income, it can be a bit more challenging to choose what the expected income moving forward should be.
Substantial change in circumstances
It is a little bit more tricky to modify a child support order outside of these periodic reviews. States need to see a substantial change in circumstances, meaning that it cannot be just a minor tweak that is needed. For example, if a parent lost his or her job then the support would probably be cut to zero and that would usually be considered the kind of substantial change necessary to get a support order changed.
States vary on just how serious a change in circumstances needs to be to reopen a child support order. For example, in North Carolina the courts have been very clear that a child support order is supposed to create “stability” and put an end to the “vicious litigation” that accompanies family law cases.
If one party can constantly come back to court and get the order reviewed then that could leave the child in a state of turmoil and insecurity. On the other hand, Texas says that a modification is warranted any time the award amount would be adjusted by at least 20% because of changes to the parents’ salaries.
Cost of living adjustments
Some states allow automatic adjustments without having to go through a whole new process. New York, for example, will make automatic cost of living (COLR) adjustments.