Under certain circumstances, a parent may seek modification of a child support order. The parent seeking modification must prove that there is a change in circumstances that justifies increasing or decreasing the award. The change in circumstances can be financial or be based on the needs of the child. A modification may permanent or temporary, depending on the circumstances forming the basis for modification.
Reasons to Increase Child Support
One reason to increase child support is that the custodial parent has suffered a loss of income. The custodial parent may petition the court for an increase in the noncustodial parent’s child support payments. If a child has new needs, such as a health issue not covered under insurance, orthodontia requirements, or special classes, an increase may also be in order.
Reasons to Decrease Child Support
If the parent paying child support has a significant decrease in income, or suffers a major medical emergency or disability, the parent may wish to modify the child support order downward. If the custodial parent has a significant increase in income through remarriage, a decrease may also be justified.
Temporary and Permanent Modification Examples
Generally speaking, temporary modification of a child support order is entered when the child suffers a medical emergency, there is a temporary inability of the payor parent to pay due to a financial or medical emergency, or the custodial parent is suffering a temporary economic or medical hardship.
A permanent modification may be warranted where there has been an increase in income due to remarriage of either parent, either parent suffers a disability, the cost of living has increased, or the child’s permanent needs has changed.
Child Support Obligations Relation to Child Visitation
The obligation of a noncustodial parent to provide child support is independent of the custodial parent’s obligation to allow child visitation. This means that even if the payor parent is not paying child support, the recipient parent must allow visitation. Alternatively, the payor parent cannot stop child support payments simply because the recipient parent is preventing visitation.
Cost of Living Adjustment (“COLA”) Clause
Some courts include a COLA clause within the child support order. A COLA clause provides for the child support payments to increase in proportion to the cost of living. Economic price indicators such as the Consumer Price Index determine the annual cost of living. One advantage to such a clause is that the parents generally do not have to seek modification as frequently.
A significant change in circumstances, financially or medically, may justify the court modifying a child support order either up or down. The parent seeking modification must petition the court for modification since a child support order continues at the same amount until the court modifies it. Child support and child visitation are independent obligations and a parent may not withhold visitation or child support based on the other parent’s failure to comply with its reciprocal obligations to allow visitation or pay support.