After a divorce involving children, child support often represents a substantial regular expense. Formulaic in nature, once in place, these court-ordered payments can be tough to change. The good news is, though it’s difficult, it is possible to modify child support in California.
Like most orders the court issues, it’s not easy, but there’s a process to modify child support. You have to meet certain conditions to do so, but if you fulfill the requirements, it can happen.
Child support is designed to cover all the expenses of raising and caring for children. This includes typical day-to-day costs, like food, a place to live, education, and medical care, but it also accounts for other expenses as well. The court takes into account a number of factors when calculating the amount. They consider need, individual incomes of the parents, the division of parenting time, and more.
Do It Right The First Time
Though you can modify child support after the fact, the best way to avoid paying more than you can afford is to get it right the first time. Don’t just agree to whatever number the other party throws out. Take the time to consider the amount, whether you believe it’s accurate, and if you can realistically make that payment.
If it appears there are issues, dispute the amount ahead of time. You can ask to receive more or request to pay less, depending on the custody arrangement. However, if you don’t do this initially, it’s usually a huge hassle to modify child support down the road.
Determine The Proper Amount
If you believe you’re either paying too much in child support or not receiving enough, it’s important to check. You can use the California Child Support Calculator, plug in all the variables, and see the proper amount.
Make sure to note that the number you get is not an official amount. The court bases this estimate on the information available. In reality, the court may have considered other factors when it determined the original amount. Doing this should, however, give you an idea whether or not you have a legitimate case. Either way, it’s an important first step to take before you attempt to modify child support.
When You Can Modify Child Support
As earlier stated, once the court sets child support, it’s difficult to change. It’s not quite set in stone, but it’s not far off. Most judges are reluctant to alter an existing court order. That said, it is possible, but there are specific requirements to meet before you can modify child support.
If you’re the receiving parent and a judge ordered child support below the guideline amount—e.g. less than the amount shown in the calculator—you can request a change at any time. In most cases, however, in order to convince the court to modify child support, you must show a significant “change in circumstances” since the order was issued. This means a number of things, but there are common instances:
- One or both parents’ income has changed. This can be either a significant increase or decrease.
- One parent loses his or her job.
- One parent goes to jail or is institutionalized against their will for more than 90 days. Payments are automatically suspended temporarily after this time.
- One parent has a new child from another relationship, which impacts the financial situation.
- Parenting time changes. How much time each parent spends with the child plays into support payments, so when that changes, the amount may change.
- The child’s needs change. This often means that there’s a new need for health care, regular child care, or new educational requirements.
- Any factors used in calculating child support change. Income looms largest of these, but things like taxes, the cost of insurance, mandatory union dues, and others also play a part.
Whatever the case, the party seeking to modify child support bears the responsibility of showing the change in circumstances. You’ll have to provide proof of income and expenses, medical fees, child care costs, employment status, visitation and parenting time arrangements, and more.
Other Considerations To Modify Child Support
Parents can come to an arrangement on payments between themselves. But a judge still needs to sign off on it and make sure it fits the circumstances to officially modify child support. So, even if you have a verbal agreement, it’s important to put it in writing and have a judge deem it official.
Also, the courts don’t retroactively modify child support. They’ll change future payments, but not existing ones. That generally means if you owe back child support, you remain on the hook for that amount. Even if the court changes your payments going forward.
The good news is that it is possible to modify child support. It takes time and effort, but the court will change the order in the right circumstances. It’s likely in your best interest to consult with a lawyer before proceeding. An experienced attorney can help guide you through the process and even tell you if you have a case or not in the first place.
If you have questions about your case, contact Goldberg Jones at our San Diego office.