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When to File a Child Support Modification

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When to File a Child Support Modification

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Families change and grow with time, and with these changes often comes a change in needs and availability. Child support is generally paid by the non-custodial parent in a divorced family on a monthly basis; the amount of child support to be paid may either be agreed upon in court or ordered by a judge, but cannot be changed without an approved petition for modification.

It’s important to remember that an original child support order is not set in stone; however, a parent or child must generally meet specific requirements before qualifying for a modification. Job loss, pay cuts, and new expenses may also play into a parent’s eligibility for child support modification. It’s also important to note that the rules regarding child support modification vary from state to state, so it’s important to reach out to a family lawyer in your area before taking the next steps.

A child support modification may be viable in a variety of circumstances, including:

  • The noncustodial parent has experienced a pay increase or decrease.
  • The noncustodial parent has become legally responsible for additional dependents.
  • The child is living with a different parent.
  • A modification is needed on only a temporary basis due to an emergency in the noncustodial parent’s life, such as a medical emergency or job lay-off/furlough.
  • The noncustodial parent becomes permanently disabled.
  • A parent remarries.
  • The needs of the child(ren) have changed significantly.
  • The original order was established or last modified more than three years ago.

As a general rule, the criteria for filing a child support modification is that there must be a substantial and material change to the parents’ or child’s circumstances since the original child support order was decided, or at least since the last modification. The only other scenario in which a child support modification may be viable is when a state’s law changes in regard to child support matters. However, family law can be complicated and difficult to accurately interpret without the help of a legal professional.

The first step in the support modification process is to file a petition with the courthouse.

Family law attorneys generally recommend filing the petition for child support modification as soon as you are aware that your situation may be changing. For example, if you are laid-off from your job but expect to return quickly, you should still file a petition for child support modification; this way even if you return to your job before the petition is approved, you may be prevented from owning support during the time you were out of a job. Otherwise, unpaid child support during that period is likely to continue accruing. Depending on the state, child support that has been accrued may not be waived.

The worst case scenario in filing a child support modification petition as soon as possible is that the situation which required it (such as a job loss) passes, and the noncustodial parent simply withdraws the petition. It’s important to remember that child support modifications can take several years or even months to be approved, but will generally apply beginning at the date when the petition was filed. To learn more about when and how to file a child support modification in your state, reach out to a family law attorney near you.

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