Divorce is often harder for parents than non-parents. Custody battles can be bitter and hard-fought. Even when those questions are resolved peacefully, parents still need to work with their former partners to raise their kids. This means coordinating responsibilities, time, and money.

Most parents understand the value of child support. Most parents want to support their children, even though there’s far more noise given toward deadbeat dads and child support struggles. Most parents work to meet their expectations, but what happens when they can’t keep up? Or the child’s needs increase? The answer may be that they need to modify their child support order.

When can a child support order be modified?

Most child support orders are modifiable after a “substantial change in circumstances.” If the new circumstances would make the old order inappropriate, the court may agree to increase or decrease the child support payments. Some examples of such changes could include:

  • You lose your job
  • You or your ex get a new job with a big raise
  • You, your child or your ex incurs significant medical expenses
  • Your child stops attending one or more expensive extracurricular programs
  • A change to the custody order or parenting time

The courts may also consider other changes. Child support is largely formulaic, and the court might allow you to modify your child support if a change in your circumstances would show the formula is no longer fair.

How can you modify your support?

Child support modifications should be taken to the court. It’s not enough for you and your ex to agree between yourselves. The child support order on file with the court is the one that’s legally enforceable, and brokering your own deal could lead to big trouble.

In the oft-cited case of Blisset v. Blisset, the parents agreed the father would give up his parenting time to be released from future child support obligations. When the mother took the child support issue back to court, the court said the father needed to pay everything he owed, even after the deal had been made. According to the court, the support is given in the child’s best interests. The parents don’t have the right to change the deal.

It’s possible to draft an agreement and take it to the court, but your petition for modification needs to go to the court and be approved by it.

How soon should you request a change?

The judge can only modify your support as of the date the a motion to modify was filed. If your financial circumstances have changed, you need to file a motion immediately.