Modifying a Child Support Order: The What, When, and How

Child support orders are not written in a vacuum. After the ink is dry and the order is filed, life happens. Either the paying or receiving parent could experience a major event that either changes their ability to pay or the amount they need for the child. If you encounter such an event, it will be essential to retain skilled legal counsel to begin the process of modifying the order right away. Cohen Family Law is ready to serve you, regardless of whether you are the paying or receiving parent who needs a modification.

What is the basis for a modification?

Child support judges recognize that the needs of the parent and child, and the abilities of the parents to meet those needs, can change with time. A parent who encounters a significant life event may therefore require a modification of the prior order to adjust to these new circumstances. There are a number of reasons you may want to ask the judge to modify the previous order, including:

  • Either parent loses his or her job, has a cutback in available hours to work, or has a decrease in income
  • Either parent obtains new employment, has more available hours to work, or receives an increase in pay
  • Either parent is not working as much as he or she can or is deliberately unemployed
  • The child’s personal needs – anything from medical to educational and beyond – have changed
  • The cost of daycare or extracurricular activities has changed
  • The child’s living arrangements (which parent he or she spends the most time with) has significantly changed
  • The child emancipates and the child support order needs to be terminated

Essentially, anything that either would result in a different order or that the judge needs to know about (like a parent who isn’t working as much as he or she can, in which case attributing income to the parent may be required) could be grounds for a modification.

When can I ask for a modification?

The above are just a few examples of reasons to seek a modification. More specifically, however, the parent requesting a modification must prove that there has been a substantial and continuing change of circumstances since the prior order was entered. A parent who opposes the modification will argue that such a change has not occurred. “Substantial” and “continuing” have complex legal meanings, so you should consult with an attorney to determine if the legal criteria for a modification have been met.

It should be emphasized that a private agreement between the parents to modify child support will not suffice. Even if you and the other parent agree on new terms, the judge needs to approve the modification and enter it as an Order of the Court for the change to take effect. However, obtaining the other parent’s consent to the modification does make the process easier.

How do I modify the previous order?

The parent who wants a modification needs to file a Petition to Modify Child Support in the court with jurisdiction over the matter. A copy of the current order, a copy of the income withholding order (if there is one), and a new, completed child support worksheet, among other documentation, must be submitted to the court. You must also submit evidence justifying the need for the modification and properly serve the other parent with the filed paperwork.

Meanwhile, if you are the parent who opposes the modification, you should work with an attorney to contest the motion. A hearing will be needed to hear both parents’ arguments. You may be able to compromise and settle on a new order with the other parent – which would be called a consent order – but again, the court must review it.

Helping You With Your Child Support Needs

Having a dedicated and knowledgeable Arizona child support attorney is essential to making your best argument for why a modification should be approved or rejected by the judge. That’s where our firm comes in. To learn more about how we can represent you, give Cohen Family Law a call today.