A variety of issues may cause either parent to seek a modification to an order for child support, including changes to employment, childcare needs, or living arrangements.
If you meet certain qualifications, you may request modification. Modification requests may be for either a decrease or an increase, and either parent may make the request.
When can I Request a Child Support Modification?
In its attempt to mitigate parents arbitrarily returning to court seeking modifications to an order for child support, Arizona set certain guidelines for doing so.
- Time: You must wait at least three years from the most recent child support order review before requesting modification.
- Adding health insurance: If the child support order makes no provision for health insurance, you may request modification if you have health insurance available at a reasonable cost.
- Change in income/job loss: Significant changes in income qualify for modification, as does the loss of employment.
- Changing health insurance coverage: Any changes to medical insurance, including loss of coverage, increases in premiums, or changes to which parent provides health insurance, qualify for a modification request.
- Childcare expenses: Significant changes in the expense of caring for the child, such as costs for daycare and healthcare, qualify for modification.
- Custody changes: If there is a change to the custody agreement or parenting time, this qualifies for modification.
- Disability: If any party is determined to have a disability, this qualifies for modification.
- Emancipation: If one of the children emancipates, you may request child support modification.
- Incarceration: If the noncustodial parent is incarcerated, or is released from incarceration, this qualifies for modification.
Modification requests require proving change(s) occurred after the original order, resulting in a substantial change in circumstances.
Does Income Play a Role?
Income plays the main role in determining child support in the original order, so it also plays a part in requesting a modification. However, changes in income must be significant to request either an increase or a decrease in support.
If the payer loses his or her job or undergoes a significant (15 percent) reduction in pay, he or she may be able to seek a reduced child support order. A modification may also be sought if the paying parent begins earning significantly more money than when the order was issued. Finally, if the custodial parent experiences a reduction in income, he or she may seek an increased child support order.
Please note: you may not seek child support modification if changes to income or employment were voluntary. In other words, you cannot simply quit your job either to get out of paying child support or to collect more child support.
Finally, the parent seeking modification must go back to court. What’s more, if the paying parent seeks modification, he or she must continue making the current payment amount or risk being found in contempt of court. Failure to obey an order of child support may result in monetary fines and/or jail time.
What if I Can’t Make a Payment?
Whatever child support order currently exists remains in effect, even if circumstances arise which make paying it difficult. Continue making your payments to the best of your ability, paying as much as you can. Proving that you continued paying your ordered child support to the best of your ability not only makes you look better in court, it means that unpaid child support payments (which you will have to pay) do not accrue.
Can I get a Permanent Child Support Modification?
A permanent modification of a child support order remains in effect until either a later modification occurs or the child no longer requires support.
Reasons for requesting a permanent modification are substantially the same, with a couple of differences:
- Child support laws change
- Either parent gets married, and that parent’s household income increases significantly
- There is an increase in the cost of living
Can I get a Child Support Modification without Going to Court?
In nearly every case of this nature, the recommended first step is attempting to reach an agreement between the parents. If both parents agree, you then request approval from a judge. Unless the agreed-upon amount is substantially below state guidelines, the judge should approve your agreement.
If the original order included a cost of living adjustment (COLA), you may not need to go to court, as the COLA clause dictates increases or decreases annually.
Schedule a Consultation for Child Support Modification
If you are experiencing difficulty paying your court-ordered child support payments, do not delay in trying to modify the order. Talk to the other parent about making a modification. If he or she agrees, get that agreement in writing so a judge can approve it. You don’t know that your ex will not change his or her mind.
If you cannot come to an agreement with the other parent, file a motion with the court or schedule an appointment with Edwards & Petersen. We will assist in your filing and advise you on your next steps.