It’s Not Set in Stone: Modifying Child Support

Many people receiving or paying child support don’t know that they can modify their support obligation. In fact, a parent can modify child support any time there has been a “substantial and continuing change in circumstances” since the last order.

What is a “substantial and continuing change in circumstances”: if either parent’s income has significantly changed, if either parent’s expenses for the children (i.e., health care, child care, etc.) have significantly changed, a change in parenting time, basically if any relevant and material issue regarding child support has changed. What are not substantial and continuing circumstances: a change of a few hundred dollars in annual income; having more parenting time with children while the other parent moves, but with the intention of returning to the regular parenting time schedule; anything that is not substantial or continuing (i.e., long-term).

For example, let’s say that mother and father get divorced. They exercise equal parenting time of their two children: Amy (3 years old) and Ben (1 year old). Father’s annual salary is $60,000 and mother’s is $40,000. Father pays the children’s health insurance at $200 per month. Father also has monthly childcare costs of $500 and mother has monthly childcare costs of $700. The court calculates child support and orders father to pay $290.40 per month to mother for child support.

Jump forward 10 years. Amy is now 13 and Ben is 11. Father lost his old job about four years ago and his new annual income is $47,000 (it’s been $47,000 for the last six years). Mother received multiple promotions and, as of last year, is an executive at her company earning an annual salary of $100,000. Father lost his benefits and had to obtain private health insurance six years ago, costing him $400 per month just to cover the children. The parents haven’t used childcare for the last five years.

There have been a lot of changes in this hypothetical situation:

  • The children are older and in school;
  • Father’s income has been reduced by $13,000 annually;
  • Mother’s income has increased by $60,000 annually;
  • Father’s insurance costs have increased by $200;
  • The parties are no longer using childcare.

All of these things are potential causes for a modification. In fact, if either party sought modification, the court would probably entertain the request. Based on these facts, however, father stands to gain the most by seeking modification. Under the new facts, the child support calculation results in mother having to pay father $623.80 in child support per month; that is a massive swing in the support obligation. This just goes to show that modifying is possible and can be very advantageous.

The biggest problem with the new facts is that many of the changes happened years prior to the hypothetical request for modification. Father would be obligated to continue paying the $290.40 per month even during the time he lost his original job and benefits. Father should have done something about these substantial and continuing changes when the changes occurred. Parents can’t just sit on their hands and expect the court to do anything for them; they must act.

If you or someone you know need to evaluate a possible modification in child support, contact me for a free 30 minute consultation.

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