When Can I Ask for a Modification of a Child Support Order?

Child and spousal support

When it comes to divorce and child support, it’s normal to have many questions. One common question? Many people wonder when child support orders can be changed.

There are many reasons to request a change to a child support order, such as the loss of a job, an increase or decrease in the income of one or both parents, a change of custodial time, disability, incarceration, or being called to active military service.

These reasons are not all-inclusive, and whether or not a child support order gets changed will depend on what California law calls meeting a “substantial change of circumstances” test.  

Determining Whether a Child Support Order Modification Is Necessary

If the circumstances presented to the court will not result in a significant change to the child support order or if the change is not material and substantial enough, the order may not change.  However, one thing to consider is that either parent may request a modification and the results may not be exactly what either of them wanted

Modification of a child support order is governed by California Family Code § 3651, which states that “…a support order may be modified or terminated at any time as the court determines to be necessary.”

Unlike the case of most spousal support orders, the court’s jurisdiction to modify a child support order may not be terminated by the parents themselves by agreement, meaning a supporting parent can’t ask to terminate parental rights and also expect to give up their support obligation.  The court has exclusive continuing jurisdiction to award or change child support until the child is 18 and out of high school (up to 19 if the child continues as a full-time high school student), marries, or otherwise emancipates.

There are certain situations where a child support order may be modified without a substantial change of circumstances, such as when the parties agreed in the order to an amount below the state guidelines set forth in Family Code Section 4050 et seq. In that case, the Code says “…no change of circumstances need be demonstrated to obtain a modification of the child support order to the applicable guideline level or above.”

Contact a San Diego Divorce Lawyer for Help With Child Support

When you’re going through a divorce, an experienced divorce attorney can help you understand the process and how to navigate child support issues, including modifications.

If you are considering divorce or have already made the difficult decision to pursue divorce and have questions, contact JWB Family Law to schedule a free consultation.

The Importance of the CFLS Designation

A Certified Family Law Specialist, or CFLS, is an attorney who has obtained certification in the standards of California family law and demonstrated optimal legal competence. Attorneys who obtain this certification have specific expertise in all aspects of family law, which includes divorce or the dissolution of marriagechild and spousal support, child custody, and temporary restraining orders, among other areas of emphasis.

Not every attorney practicing family law has obtained this certification. In fact, the designation remains relatively rare—there are fewer than 2,000 CFLS attorneys in California and fewer than 200 in San Diego.

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