Generally, a judge orders child support payments in your divorce decree based on your family’s situation at the time of your divorce. Procedures vary according to state law, but courts can modify child support orders when a family’s situation changes, perhaps when one spouse receives a significant increase in income or the custody arrangements change.
Limitations on Frequency
Most states don’t have a specific limit on the number of times a parent can request an increase in support, but states often have rules that, practically speaking, limit the frequency of requests. Technically, you can file modification paperwork as often as you like, but filing does not mean your requests will be granted. Courts can continue to reject your filings if you do not qualify for a modification.
Significant Change of Circumstances
Typically, courts grant motions to modify child support only if you or your ex-spouse have experienced a significant change of circumstances that affects your finances or care of your child. For example, if your ex-spouse receives a substantial pay raise, that raise may be considered a substantial change. Similarly, the court could consider it a significant change if your ex-spouse becomes disabled and cannot work. However, the court likely will not consider it a significant change if your ex-spouse marries a wealthy individual since the new spouse’s income is not generally included when calculating child support.
Some states' statutes have a percentage threshold for when a modification is warranted. For example, Vermont considers a change substantial if the modified amount of child support, calculated using the state guidelines, would be at least 10 percent higher or lower than the previous amount. Arizona law allows a simplified modification procedure if the change is at least 15 percent, since that amount of change is presumed to be “substantial and continuing,” which is Arizona’s standard for modification.
Using State Calculations
If the child support terms in your divorce decree were not calculated according to your state’s guidelines, your state may allow you to ask for a modification to have this calculation done. However, calculation using the state guidelines may result in a decrease instead of an increase. If your state allows, you and your ex-spouse can also agree to a modification, even if it is not based on your state’s guidelines, and you may not have to go to court for a hearing since the court can simply adopt your agreement.