Child Support Modification

Requesting a child support modification requires proof of a significant change in circumstances.

By WomansDivorce | Answers by Brette Sember, J.D.  

Either parent can request a child support modification, but they must prove there has been a change in circumstances since the child support order was established. Depending of where you live, reasons to request a change in child support include:

  • A substantial change in income (increase or decrease) of either parent,
  • A change in custody or parenting time,
  • An increase in the child's needs (educational or medical),
  • The supporting parent has additional children to support, 
  • The supporting parent becomes disabled, or
  • Either parent remarries (which affects the household income)

How these factors will affect the level of support vary. For example, a substantial increase in the custodial parent's income may actually lead to a decrease in the amount of support ordered if the child support guidelines are followed. A change in the custody of the child will also qualify for a change in the child support orders.

Child support may be modified by the mutual agreement by the parents or by having the matter determined in a child support hearing. Either way, any modifications to the child support order will require a judge's approval to be enforceable by the court. Informal agreements between the parents to reduce or increase the support payments will not be recognized by the court as a binding agreement.

It's important to note that some states restrict how often they will review a child support case. Depending on where you live, you may have to wait anywhere from 12 months up to three years to seek a child support modification. It's important to review your state child support laws, as well as your child support order, to find out what restrictions apply.

If you are wondering if a modification of child support is possible in your situation, the following answers from our legal advisor can shed some light on the different factors that change child support.

Child Support Modification FAQs

Will he still have to pay child support if we marry?

Heidi's Question: Will the father of my children be required to continue paying me child support if we marry?

Brette's Answer: No.

How are my financial records relevant to the amount of support?

Colby's Question: My ex has not been paying the full court ordered support amount for our children for more than a year. I hired an attorney and filed a support contempt order. He filed an answer saying he doesn't have the money and demanded a jury trial. My attorney filed discovery requesting all of his financial records for the past 3 year, and tells me that they will likely reply in kind. How can my financial records be relevant to whether or not he can afford to pay the court ordered amount?

Brette's Answer: Because he will probably try to show your financial resources have increased or your expenses have decreased, so that he can ask to have the child support amount lowered.

Can child support be modified if the custodial parent earns more money?

Missy's Question: Can my boyfriend modify his child support? He’s paying a set amount from years ago when his ex was a stay at home Mom. Now she’s a teacher and has the ability to help with health insurance, which he currently covers 100%.  She also had a home was gifted to her so her expenses have decreased, and her income has increase from less than 10k to 60k.

Brette's Answer: Yes a change in income as well as in insurance can be grounds for a modification. He can file and seek to change it.

How do I get support modified if his income has increased?

Kit's Question: My ex husband is making way more than he was when we divorced and my child is going to attend Christian academy starting next year. Do I have to get an attorney to up the amount/make modification?

Brette's Answer: If your child support is handled through your state child support collection agency check with them on what to do. If not, you need to file a motion for modification with the court. 

Can child support be retroactively modified if I earn more money?

Megan's Question: My ex and I are 2 years into a support order and I have recently had a substantial increase of income with a new job. He now wants to ask the court for an order change to decrease his child support amount and I'm wondering if I the support changes would be retroactive to the date I started the new job or how that would work?

Brette's Answer: Child support can be retroactively modified but usually only to the date of the petition that is filed for modification.  

Would a change in the mother's situation change child support?

Marie's Question: If the mother has primary custody and the child visits the father summers, and two weeks out of the year, would the fact that the mother is not working and going to school change the amount of child support the father has to pay?

Brette's Answer: Child support is calculated based on income. If your circumstances have changed since it was set you can ask for an increase. Talk to your attorney.

Can custody be brought up in a child support modification case?

L's Question: Is custody brought up in a child support modification case? Also, when you contact child support about the other party could that get brought up in court?

Brette's Answer: Child support and custody are two separate matters. Any evidence that is relevant can be used in a trial so it is hard to answer that without the circumstances. 

Can child support be increased if nothing has changed?

Question: We agreed to a set amount of child support and in the final judgment it states so. He threatens to file to modify it to a higher amount. Can he be successful? Even though we both have no life changes, raises or expenses the past two years since the divorce.

Brette's Answer: If nothing has changed there would be no reason to modify, except to adjust for inflation.

Should I ask for an increase in child support after all these years?

Michelle's Question: Child support was established in our divorce and I've never went to my social worker to ask for an increase. Should I seek to have the child support increased since it's never changed in 12 years?

Brette's Answer: You may be entitled to a cost of living increase. Other increases would require that you show a change in circumstances - either decrease in your income or increase in the father's, or change in the child's needs.

Why was child support reduced when he lost his job?

Angel's Question: My ex is paying half of the original ordered child support via an amended child support order. I understand the decrease in child support while he is unemployed, but why is that amount forgiven with no back pay. No one is forgiving me my child related bills- it isn't costing me less to raise them.

Brette's Answer: If the order was amended, he is only required to pay the ordered amount because that is what is calculated based on his current income. I understand what you are saying about your bills not having decreased, but that's just the way child support works - it is income-based, not expense-based.

What if I'm unemployed and can't pay the child support?

Amber's Question: My husband screwed me over in court and got custody of our boys. He is demanding child support that I cannot pay. I live out of state now and I am searching for a job, but I have not been very well with it. What can I do about the child support?

Brette's Answer: Seek to have the child support modified to your current income level. You should present your entire financial picture to the court when asking for the child support modification. You likely qualify for only the minimum at this point since you are unemployed.

He doesn't owe support until the house sells, but it's in foreclosure.

Julie's Question: It stated in our Separation Agreement that I would not receive child support until our marital home sold. Well it has gone into Foreclosure, and will never 'be sold'. So now my ex thinks he's off the hook for paying child support. Additionally, when the agreement was written he had a higher paying job. When we got divorced he changed to a job paying almost 1/2 of what he was getting then. If I file a petition to pursue child support through Family Court would the court adjusts our agreement to a lower child support payment?

Brette's Answer: You need to talk to your attorney. The decree needs to be modified to reflect the situation with the house. Yes, child support could be reduced due to his lowered income, but if he gets a higher paying job, you can seek to have it increased. Good luck.

Will the support order change if he has another child?

Stephanie's Question: My husband is paying child support from a previous marriage. We have a baby on the way, and we are really struggling to make ends meet and pay the ordered support. Will his child support change once our baby is born?

Brette's Answer: A new baby is a change of circumstances and a reason for a child support modification. Good luck.

Will support be lowered every time he has another child?

Kristen's Question: My ex had another baby with his new wife. I know his child support will be lowered because of this. But will it continue to be lowered for each child they have together? He should not keep having more children if he cannot support the ones he already has.

Brette's Answer: Yes, future child would be factored in because otherwise he could end up owing more child support than he earns. If he is keeping up with payments, he is supporting his child according to the law.

Can he reduce support if his wife bears a child that isn't his?

Melissa's Question: My ex-husband married a woman when she was pregnant. He signed the birth certificate when the child was born. He has not legally adopted this child yet. He's asking the court to lower his child support payments for our two children because this baby was born. How can I request a paternity test in court for this other kid? Do I have that right?

Brette's Answer: In most states the law is that when a man is married to a woman and she gives birth, he is the legal father, unless it is proven otherwise. I'm not sure you would have standing to challenge that presumption in this instance. Even if it is not his biological child, it is his stepchild and is a dependent in his household. You should talk to an attorney who can review your state's laws.

How would it affect support if he got a raise and had another child?

Mary's Question: My ex just had a cost of living raise, and he recently filed a child support modification based upon the fact he has a new child. Is that any reason to do so even when he owes child support?

Brette's Answer: The raise and the new child might cancel each other out. If he gets a raise, it increases his income; however having another child increases his expenses.

How is child support affected when the oldest child turns 18?

Amanda's Question: My husband is paying child support for his two children ages 17 & 15. By agreement support will end at age 18. What happens when the oldest reaches 18? Is the current support amount reduced by 50% or is the new amount of support determined by taking his current pay and calculating a new amount for the one child?

Brette's Answer: You need to consult your state child support guidelines. If for example, your state guidelines are 25% for two children and 17% for one child, your husband's responsibilities will decrease from the current 25% he is paying to the 17% rate for one child. (You can look up the guidelines by choosing your state from the State Divorce Resources page)


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