Child Support Modification

A CHILD SUPPORT ORDER COMPELS THE NONCUSTODIAL PARENT TO MAKE PAYMENTS TO THE CUSTODIAL PARENT TO HELP WITH THE COST OF RAISING THE CHILD.

Circumstances on either side of the order often fluctuate — the child may experience a change in financial need or the non-custodial parent's income may shift, for example.

Either parent may request a child support modification when such changes occur. If granted, the modification will alter the original child support order to reflect the changes. The process of requesting a child support modification can vary by state and even by county, which is why it's important to know Los Angeles' specific process before going forward. 

Who Can Request a Support Modification and Why?

The parties typically requesting a child support modification are parents, but other parties can petition for a change as well. A custodial parent (CP), noncustodial parent (NCP), or caregiver may request a child support modification. Local and out-of-state child support agencies can also ask to modify an order.

California's standard for granting a child support modification is a "substantial change in circumstances" since the court issued the existing order. The Los Angeles County Child Support Services Department (CSSD) offers the following as examples of changed circumstances:

  • Either parent's income has changed
  • A parent has lost a job
  • A parent experiences a change in family size (e.g., has another child)
  • The NCP goes to jail or prison
  • One or more of the factors used to calculate child support have changed (e.g., parent's living expenses, health insurance premiums, etc.)
  • The child's needs have changed, resulting in different costs (more or less) for health care, education, child care, etc.
  • Changes in how much time the child spends with each party (visitation) or a change in primary custody
  • The NCP in the armed forces is deployed
  • The NCP becomes disabled
  • The NCP begins receiving veteran's benefits, supplemental security income (SSI), or general relief (GR)

Note that the NCP must continue to pay child support as originally ordered while a modification request is pending. Also keep in mind that voluntarily quitting a job is not a valid reason to ask for a child support modification.

Temporary vs. Permanent Modification

Child support modifications may be either temporary or permanent depending on the change in circumstances. A temporary modification will remain in effect only until the change in circumstances, such as a short-term financial setback, is resolved. By contrast, a permanent modification will remain in effect until the child no longer requires support or the parties modify the order due to a new change in circumstances. 

Examples of what might merit a temporary child support modification include:

  • The child has a medical emergency, such as a hospitalization or surgery
  • The NCP has a medical emergency resulting in a temporary inability to pay
  • The NCP experiences a temporary loss of employment
  • A temporary change in custody (e.g., the custodial parent is hospitalized and the NCP assumes custody in the interim)
  • The custodial parent experiences a temporary financial or medical hardship

Examples of what might merit a permanent child support modification include:

  • A parent remarries, changing his or her income
  • A parent becomes permanently disabled
  • A parent loses a job or gets a new job with a substantially different salary
  • The child's support needs change significantly
  • Family law on child support changes
  • The cost of living increases

Do I Have to Go to Court?

You will almost always need the court's approval for a child support modification. The lone exception is a cost-of-living modification. Most California judges include something called a cost of living adjustment (COLA) clause in every child support order they issue. These clauses automatically adjust the amount of child support owed each year according to some economic indicator, such as the Consumer Price Index. If your child support order contains this clause, it eliminates the need for you to attend hearings in the future to modify the payments to reflect higher costs of living.

You can also avoid a hearing on a child support modification if you and the other parent can agree on the change. If the paying party will stipulate to, or approve, the new agreement, you can simply submit to a judge for approval. In other words, you won't have to go to court, but you will still need a judge to approve the changes and issue a new support order. 

Information You'll Need to Request a Modification

In order for the local child support agency or court to review your modification request, you'll need to provide the following information:
•    Parents' income and expenses
•    Child care expenses
•    Health insurance premiums
•    Disability benefits information, if applicable (SSI, SDI, SSA, etc.)
•    Incarceration status, if applicable
•    Unemployment benefits
•    Retirement income
•    Custody and visitation arrangements

Requests to change a child support order must be in writing. To be justified, the proposed modification must change the payment by 20 percent or $50, whichever is less.

Child Support Modification Process in Los Angeles

You can modify a child support order in Los Angeles County in three ways:

1.    Request a review of the order by a child support agency (CSSD). You must have an open case with the agency to do so. The agency has 180 days to request a change from the court once you request a review. If denied, you can still petition the court directly for a modification change. 
2.    Petition the court directly. If you choose to go to court on your own, you can ask the Family Law Facilitator at the courthouse for help. The Facilitator offers free legal assistance and will guide you through the modification process.
3.    Get a lawyer to go to court with you. If you hire an attorney, he or she can petition the court for a change on your behalf.

You can submit a request for review online through TurboCourt if you want to go through the CSSD. You can also call 1-866-901-3212.

Petitioning the court on your own is more complicated. You'll need to file an Order to Show CauseIncome and Expense Declaration, and Request for Order and Supporting Declaration with the clerk of court and pay a filing fee. You'll then need another adult to serve these documents to the other party and file a family law proof of service with the court. The final step is the hearing, the date of which you'll choose when you file the original paperwork.

The process of modifying an order shouldn't take more than six months. If approved, the new payment amount will take effect on the date specified in the court order. Typically, that means the first day of the month after the motion was filed with the court.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Modify a Support Order?

You don't need a child support lawyer to modify your order. You can go through CSSD or the court's Family Law Facilitator for free assistance. However, in some situations, you're better off hiring your own legal counsel. An attorney will know how to prove (or disprove) a change in circumstances in a way the court will find persuasive. An attorney can also handle all the paperwork and financial details for you. Generally speaking, hiring a lawyer is a good idea if:

  • The other party has an attorney
  • You know the proceeding will be contentious
  • The other party is self-employed or receives income in cash
  • You suspect the other party is misrepresenting his or her income or assets

Los Angeles County offers parents several free resources to help them modify a child support order. In more complex cases, however, you might benefit from consulting an attorney.