A common standard for modification of child support is a substantial change in circumstances. That usually refers to a change in income of the parent who is supposed to paying support. If the parent who is obliged to pay support suffers a loss of income, that could be a basis for reducing support; conversely, if the parent’s income increases, that could be a basis for increasing support.
Changes in circumstances of the child also can be a reason for modifying support. If the child has significant new expenses such as orthodonture, special classes, or health needs that are not covered by insurance, that too can be a reason for increasing support.
Significant changes in the income of the parent seeking support also can be a basis for modification. If the custodial parent’s income drops (particularly through no fault of the custodial parent), that might be a basis for increasing support. If the custodial parent’s income increases, that might be basis for reducing support from the noncustodial parent.
In some states, support orders may be reviewed automatically every few years to set support consistent with the parents’ current income and the support guidelines. If the parent who is supposed to pay support has a major drop in income (such as through loss of a job) and the income is not likely to be replaced soon, the parent should promptly go to court to seek modification of child support.
The obligation to pay support at the designated amount continues until a court orders otherwise. A court’s order for child support generally is effective for future support payments only. Normally, a court cannot retroactively modify support payments, even if the parent who was supposed to pay had a good reason for not making full payments.
When a parent loses a job or experiences a financial setback, one of the last things the parent may want to do is incur more expenses by hiring an attorney to try to reduce support. But if the parent has a good reason to reduce support, the money is well spent since the support obligation will continue at the original amount. The meter on the cab runs at the same rate, so to speak. As an alternative to an attorney, if the local court is relatively user-friendly, the party seeking to change support might try to represent himself or herself.
Child Support and Visitation
Child support and visitation are independent rights and obligations. If a parent is not receiving child support, the remedy for that parent is to go to court (or activate a wage withholding order) to collect child support. The parent who is supposed to receive child support may not deny visitation or contact with the child because support was not paid.
Similarly, if visitation or contact with the child is blocked by the custodial parent, the legal remedy for the noncustodial parent is go to court to obtain an order enforcing visitation. The noncustodial parent may not cut off or reduce child support because the custodial parent interfered with visitation.