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.
Can You 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.
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.
The courts don’t retroactively modify child support. They’ll change future payments, but not existing ones. That 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.
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