Understanding Child Support Modification
Many parents will experience multiple changes in custody and incomes during the time of a child support order. Because of these changes, rules are set out to govern if and when a parent can change a child support order – and whether to increase or decrease it.
The three main considerations in determining if child support can be updated are:
- the time that has passed since the last order,
- whether one or both parties have experienced a change in income, and
- whether the changes in income would lead to a change in child support.
Below, our family law attorneys at Pearson Butler provide a deeper analysis of these three main considerations and review how you can seek a child support modification.
Consideration #1: Time Passed Since the Court Order
The first consideration when considering an adjustment to child support is the amount of time that has passed since the last child support order was entered by the court. If it has been less than three years since the last change in support, the parties must file a Petition to Modify and proceed with the full litigation process in order to pursue the modification. This is an intensive process and requires a heightened threshold of income and support changes in order to be effective, primarily to keep parties from trying to change support orders every year.
However, if it has been more than three years since the last modification of support, a party only needs to file a Motion to Adjust Child Support and can often update support by attending one hearing on the matter. The requirements to modify child support after three or more years are significantly relaxed, making it much easier and faster to modify support if it has been three or more years since the last order was entered. If you are close to the three-year mark, it is often advantageous to wait until that point. However, there are some ramifications to waiting, so you will want to consult with an attorney early on to discuss your options.
Consideration #2: Changes to Income
Once a party has determined how to file for a modification (based on how long it has been since the last child support order), the next consideration is whether one or both parties have experienced a change in income significant enough to warrant an updated support order. The amount that must be changed will depend on whether you are filing before or after the three-year mark. However, the changes in income cannot be temporary: If you are experiencing a temporary reduction in income, you likely will not be allowed to modify your support order. There may be exceptions to this – such as times when you are not sure if your reduction will be temporary or long-term – so you will want to consult an attorney to discuss the details.
When determining if a permanent change in income has occurred, the Court will also look at whether the change is voluntary. If a party is voluntarily unemployed or voluntarily underemployed, the Court can determine that the party could go earn the previously-earned income and will continue calculating child support based on that previous income rate.
This means that a parent who had income at a specified rate may not be able to adjust child support by choosing a lower paying job or choosing to be a stay-at-home parent, even if the change would be helpful in other ways. You are not required to actually maintain the previous income rates, but child support will be calculated as if the previous income existed. These are considerations you may wish to take into account before making any significant changes to your employment situation.
Consideration #3: How Much the Update will Change Support
The third consideration for modifying a child support order is to look at whether the parties’ current circumstances would change support at least a minimum amount. If the last order is less than three years old, the changes to custody or income would have to be significant enough that it changes child support at least 30%. If your case does not meet that significant rate of change, you will not be allowed to modify your support order. If the previous child support order is over three years old, the change to support only needs to be 10% or more in order to justify updating the support order.
What to Keep in Mind When Filing for Modification
While a parent has the right to adjust child support every three years, this does not happen automatically. If you do not initiate the adjustment, it will not happen. No matter how significant your change in income may be – and no matter how much it would have increased or decreased support amounts – the Court cannot adjust child support retroactively to a date before the request for adjustment is filed with the Court.
This means you will want to keep a close eye on potential changes in income and support so you can move quickly. If you wait, the Court cannot go back to the date of the change just because the impact would be significant for you. Frequently, parties will build into their court order an obligation to exchange income information each year (often times around the time of filing taxes) so they know if an update to child support is warranted.
If you would like to pursue a modification to your child support, or if you would like to discuss whether you qualify to modify your support order, please contact Pearson Butler to schedule a consultation with our experienced family law attorneys. As a premier full-service law firm in Utah, we can apply decades of experience to your family dispute or child support modification case, helping you find a solution for your family.
Contact us at (800) 265-2314 today to get started with a free consultation.