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.
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. Or cheap.
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, among other things:
- The amount of time a parent spends with a child.
- Each parent’s income.
- The level of need.
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. It’s much, much easier to take care of this now than to deal with it later.
If you don’t do this upfront, child support modification often turns into a grind.
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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.
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 12 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 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.
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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 usually 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.
- If there are big changes in parenting time.
- A baby with a new spouse.
- A drastic change in the child’s needs, such as increased medical attention, a new need for regular child care, or education costs. (For postsecondary education, a modification must occur before the child turns 18.)
Related Reading: When Does Child Support Go Past 18?
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.
If it’s been more than a year since the court handed down your support order, child support modification is possible. You do still 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 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. And sometimes, even if you do meet the criteria, the court may still not grant the change.
Related Reading: Frequently Asked Child Support Questions In Washington
After Filing To Modify Child Support
Once you file the forms for a 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. And even then, it’s an uphill battle.
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 the strongest possible argument.
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From the Radio
Our founding partner, Rick Jones, makes regular appearances on the Danny Bonaduce and Sarah Morning Show on KZOK, where he answers listener questions about family law matters. One caller, as happens fairly often, had questions about modifying his child support payments.
CALLER: “I just recently got divorced and in the process also lost my job. I was wondering how I could go about getting a child support payment lowered?”
Danny: “That’s a great question.”
Rick: “What are your prospects for getting your next job?”
Caller: “Well right now, low.”
Rick: “Okay, here’s one of the problems. Unemployment, more often than not, is very temporary. So jumping right back into the court now to say: ‘Hey, let’s reduce my child support I have no income whatsoever,’ has two problems to it.
“One, it costs money to get back into court.
“Two, they also don’t want you back so quickly. The preference is one year, often two years after the last support order was entered. The fact that I’m hearing you were recently divorced is a little bit of an issue.
“Here’s what you can do though certainly IF there’s the ability to make sure to get gainfully employed again. Even if it’s at a number you’re less than comfortable with, at that point, you’re able to go back to the court and say look, ‘I have a new circumstance and this circumstance isn’t going to change.’ So it carries with it a whole lot more credibility in seeking an adjustment.”
Danny: “I learn something new every time you’re here. So I just assumed that if I was out of work, say you have to pay $1,000 a month and now I don’t have any money, nothing coming in, hey your honor, so really your honor wants to see a track record of nothing coming in or less coming in if he’s going to change.”
Rick: “Well, they don’t want to waste their time. If what they’re listening to after you get to court–which may take weeks to get to court–is, ‘I make no money at all, okay, what am I going to do with this child support,’ and then voila, two weeks later this person’s employed. Does that mean she goes back to court and tries and get it raised? So they’re trying to be efficient.”
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