How Do I Know It’s Time to Modify Child Support?

At some point after you have been awarded child support, you might suspect or feel that it is time to consider modifying the support.

Generally, you cannot request a change in modifying child support unless there has been a change in circumstances that justifies an increase or a reduction. Often, the change must be substantial or material. You need not demonstrate a change, however, if the child support order was for an amount below the guidelines or if you and your spouse stipulated to such an amount in your separation or dissolution agreement.

There may be numerous reasons for requesting modification including the following:

  • Loss of employment
  • A parent has been incarcerated
  • Significant changes in how long the child spends with the parents
  • Changes in the child’s needs regarding education, health or child care
  • Dramatic change in income
  • A parent has become permanently disabled
  • A parent has a new child from another relationship


Check with your attorney to see if there has been a substantial enough change to warrant a modification.

How to Change a Child Support Order

You can prepare the necessary legal forms and file either a motion to modify the support or by filing a complaint or petition, depending on your state’s requirements. An attorney can prepare these documents for you.

In some states, you can request that the department of child support enforcement or the department of child services or other state agency with similar functions file the complaint, petition or motion for you.

Some states require that the amount of change be at least a certain amount or percentage and that a certain time has passed since the order was entered or last reviewed.

Some parents will attempt to circumvent the process by “voluntarily impoverishing” themselves by getting fired or by not actively seeking other employment or by finding a low-income job. The court may, however, look at the paying parent’s physical abilities, level of education, past work history and his or her efforts in obtaining a job or seeking training. Being jailed because of a failure to pay child support is considered “voluntary impoverishment’ and the parent will be ordered to pay the required amount on release without any modifications.