What To Do and Not Do Re Child Support Modification in California

There are definitely times when child support orders need to be modified. Life changes, often without warning, and legal obligations need to be adjusted to fit the new reality.

California law allows parents paying child support and parents receiving child support to seek modifications of support orders. But it is important to approach modifications the right way or you could find your difficulties increasing rather than decreasing.

Do Seek Permission from the Court

Child support arrangements are, legally speaking, set in stone. They are established by court order. That means that if you want to change the arrangements, either to adjust amounts up or down, you need to put in a formal request with the court and go through official channels.

Do Not Make Modifications on Your Own

While courts encourage parents to work out their own arrangements for custody, support, and other issues, once those arrangements have been incorporated in a court order, medication outside of court is not a good idea, particularly with respect to child support. Parents can negotiate a change and even draw up a written contract, but the court order will remain legally binding. For instance, if the parent paying support lost their job and the parent receiving support agreed to accept reduced payments, this agreement has no legal effect. The spouse who accepted reduced payments could still come back and demand the remainder later (with interest) because the court order obligates the paying parent to pay the original amount. Modifications must be made in court to be effective.

Do Petition for Modification Quickly if You Lose Your Job

Child support obligations are based on parents’ incomes, so if you suddenly find yourself with no income, it is important to work with your attorney to file a petition to modify support obligations as soon as possible.

Don’t Wait Hoping Things Will Get Better Before Requesting a Modification

Whether you are the parent paying support or the parent receiving support, if you suddenly find yourself needing more money because of a loss of job, reduction in work hours, or due to medical problems or other needs, it is important to request a modification right away. Payment obligations continue under the existing court order until a new one is put in place. So don’t wait to request a modification, or you will rack up additional bills that will be hard to pay.

Do Collect Evidence to Support Your Request

In many cases, a court will grant a request for modification of child support if a change in income or needs would change the calculated support obligations by at least 20% (or $50, whichever is less). This means you should be prepared to present evidence to show how income has decreased (or increased) or how needs have escalated. If your insurance costs have gone up, gather the invoices. If your employer has cut your hours, get your pay stubs and any notification of cutbacks. If you have medical issues that prevent you from working, get a note from your doctor. Work with your attorney to ensure you have sufficient evidence to convince the court why the support order should be modified.

Don’t File Modification Requests without Justification

California law allows a parent to request a modification in child support if at least three years have passed since the previous order was established or if there has been a “substantial change in circumstances.” Filing a petition for modification within less than three years is not a good idea unless your attorney agrees that the change in circumstances is substantial. You don’t want to be on record with the court for making frivolous requests.

Don’t Forget That a Change in Custody Can Justify a Change in Support

One of the substantial changes in circumstances that can justify a modification in support obligations is a significant change in custody arrangements. If the percentage of time your child spends with you has increased substantially and the change is recognized by the court, then that should be reflected in child support amounts. For instance, if a child spends five nights per week with you instead of two, that is a significant shift in care obligations and the amount you pay or receive should be adjusted accordingly.

Talk to a Certified Family Law Specialist at Holstrom, Block & Parke, APLC About Child Support Modifications

Whether you are paying support or receiving it, when you need to seek a modification, it is smart to act quickly but also correctly. The Certified Family Law Specialists and associates at Holstrom, Block & Parke, APLC, can help you assess whether a modification is justified and present the facts to the court in a manner calculated to achieve approval. Contact us now to get started on the modification process.


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