Child Support Modification: How To Change A Child Support Order

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When children factor into a divorce, child support often becomes one of the most significant continuing expenses parents face. Court-ordered payments, the intent is to provide for the care and maintenance all kids need. There’s a formula to determine the amount, but once they’re in place, is child support modification possible? Though you must meet certain requirements, you can modify child support in Washington. Like trying to alter most court-issued decrees, however, it’s not particularly easy.

Child support covers everything caring for children entails. This includes everyday costs like food and shelter, medical care, and education. When determining the amount, the court considers many factors. The calculation includes the amount of time a parent spends with a child, each parents’ income, the level of need, and more.

The best way to make sure you don’t wind up paying more child support than you can afford is to do what you can to get the number right the first time. If you have concerns about the amount laid out by the child support formula, dispute it before it becomes official. You can argue why you should pay less or why you should receive more. But if you don’t do this up front, child support modification often turns into a grind.

Filing For Child Support Modification

To change a child support order in Washington State, there are two different ways to proceed. One is to file a Motion for Adjustment of Child Support and the other is to submit a Petition to Modify Child Support. Each one has specific requirements and whether to file one or the other depends greatly on the situation.

  • Motion for Adjustment of Child Support: This is generally the quicker, easier path. It involves less paperwork and the matter at hand is often settled in a single hearing. That said, not everyone qualifies for this strategy. You can file this motion if it’s been two years since the initial order AND either your or your ex’s income has changed. Or, if it’s been at least one year AND the child turned twelve and changed age category.
  • Petition to Modify Child Support Order: A year after the initial child support order, you can file this way if the payments cause a severe financial hardship to you or the child, the child turned 18 but hasn’t finished high school, or if there has been a drastic change in your economic circumstances.

When Can You Modify Child Support?

Either parent can file a request to modify child support. Because of how important the payments are, child support modification most often requires the filing parent to show a significant change in circumstances. For the paying parent, this commonly takes the form of a drop in income, frequently due to the loss of a job.

On the other hand, the custodial parent can request an increase if, for example, the other parent gets a substantial raise or promotion. Big changes in parenting time and even a baby with a new spouse may also necessitate another look.

If a child’s needs change drastically, it’s also possible to modify child support. This includes situations with an increased necessity for medical attention, a new need for regular child care, or even education costs.

Child Support Modification Without A Change In Circumstances

If it’s been less than a year since the court handed down your support order, you have to show a change in economic circumstances to modify child support. However, if it’s been more than a year, child support modification is possible without that. You do have to meet a handful of criteria to be eligible.

  • If a payment represents an undue financial burden on either the parent or the child.
  • If, due to the child’s increased age, he or she no longer falls into the same category the original calculation was based on.
  • Or, if a child has turned 18 but still needs continued support to complete high school.

If your situation fits into one of these areas, and more than a year has passed since the initial order, you can request child support modification. It’s not a simple process, and the court is often hesitant to alter an existing edict, but you can try.

After Filing To Modify Child Support

Once you file the forms for child support modification, the next step is to serve your ex. This involves delivering a summons, a copy of the motion or petition, and the appropriate worksheets to your child’s other parent. As in most cases, it’s likely in your best interest to use a professional process server to accomplish this step. If you’re working with an attorney, he or she should be able to help in this area.

Once served, your ex has 20 days to respond to the petition—60 days if served outside of Washington. If there’s no response in the given window, you may receive a default judgment. This is where the court issues an order without an appearance from the served party.

After you serve the papers and your ex responds, either one of you can schedule a hearing. Both sides make their cases and lay out their respective arguments. When you finish presenting all the evidence and stating your claim, the court rules on the matter at hand.

Attempts to modify child support are complicated. You have many hoops to jump through and boxes to check off. Though child support modification is an option, in many cases, the court is hesitant to change an existing order. If you do go this route, take your time to make sure you do all the legwork and have a strong argument.

If you have questions about child support modification, feel free to contact Goldberg Jones at our Seattle office.

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