Either parent can ask the court to modify a child support agreement. Whether the court will actually grant your request is another matter. Child support laws vary by state, but most courts need a very good reason to make changes after an agreement has been turned into an order.
You Must Prove a Change of Circumstances
When you ask for a modification of child support, you generally must prove that something significant has happened in your life that makes the amount you are paying or receiving no longer appropriate. For example, if you are now supporting additional children, a judge might consider this a significant change of circumstances.
If the children for whom you are paying support now reside with you instead of the other parent, this would also qualify as a significant change.
Your Income May Be a Factor
If you agreed to a certain amount of child support based on income you are no longer earning, this change in your situation could be grounds for a child support order to be modified. The amount of income you've lost must be significant. Some states have laws that the change in your income must affect your child support amount by 10 to 20 percent before the court will modify an order. This could happen, for example, if you've lost your job and are now collecting unemployment.
Voluntary changes of income don't count. You cannot simply quit your job and expect to pay less or receive more child support as a result. A court also might modify a child support order when the parent receiving support starts earning a great deal more income than when the court first granted the order.
Time Limits May Apply
Some state courts discourage parents from seeking modifications of child support by limiting how often a change can be requested. You may have to wait as long as three years for your request to be considered, especially if the reason for your request is not significant.
Negotiated Agreements Can Be Harder to Modify
In some states, it is more difficult to modify a child support agreement than a post-trial child support order. This is especially true if you agreed to a specific amount of child support in a separation agreement, and the agreement was included in your divorce decree. Some states regard separation agreements as contracts, which are more difficult to modify than court orders.
A Family Law Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding modification of child support is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a family law lawyer.