Modifying an order for child support in California

Child support can be one of the most critical issues in a California divorce involving minor children. The court’s order requiring one party to pay child support to the other party usually runs through the child’s 18th birthday.

In a family with more than one minor child, the order expires for each child separately, a fact that can mean a very long payment period. What happens if during a period that could exceed 15 years the parent who owes the support obligation suffers a disabling illness or loses his or her job? Such events are known as “changed circumstances” and such an event can be the basis for asking the court to modify or alter its original order for support.

The occurrence of a change in circumstances can be presented to the court in a motion for modification of the original order for child support. Examples of changed circumstances include: a change in one or both parents’ income; incarceration of a parent; loss of a job; the child’s needs have changed; or a disabling illness or injury. If the parents can work out an agreement on changing the amount of support, they can present their agreement to the court as a joint petition. Nevertheless, the court will make an independent review of the facts to ensure that circumstances have in fact changed and that a modification of support is warranted.

Before an order for support will be modified, the court will want to know about any changes in the parents’ incomes, changes in child care and educational expenses, whether the parents have health insurance that covers the child, information about any disability and any support payments, and existing custody and visitation agreements. If the requested change in required support exceeds 20% or $50 per month, whichever is greater, the court will normally order the change. If the parents do not agree on the amount of the change or on the facts offered in support of the change, a court hearing will be necessary.

Parents may feel strongly about modifying or not modifying an order for child support. It can help to have objective advice on the matter. An experienced divorce attorney can offer valuable assistance in seeking or opposing an order modifying child support.