How Often Do the Courts Evaluate Child Support in Missouri?

By Heather Frances J.D.

Circumstances can change after the court issues a final divorce decree or child support order, causing the ordered amount of child support to be out of date. Missouri child support orders are not automatically adjusted for increases in the cost of living, but some are automatically reviewed, and all can be periodically modified.

Modification Criteria

Missouri recognizes that child support orders must be flexible enough to change when circumstances change, such as when a parent loses a job, becomes ill or a child is diagnosed with a severe illness that increases medical bills. A request to modify the amount of child support requires a showing that the family’s circumstances have changed so substantially and continually that the existing order’s terms are unreasonable. Until your order is officially modified, it remains in effect regardless of whether your circumstances have actually changed.

CSE Review

If your children receive Temporary Assistance to Needy Families or Missouri HealthNet services, the Child Support Enforcement section, or CSE, of Missouri’s Department of Social Services reviews your support orders automatically every three years to determine whether the support amount should be adjusted. CSE will review your case sooner if you request it even if your case does not qualify for the automatic three-year review, CSE will also review your case at your request. If the difference between the existing child support amount and the new amount would be at least 20 percent, or if provisions about health insurance must be added to the existing orders, CSE will pursue modification without the necessity of court involvement.

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Due Process

If you request a hearing because of factual issues, such as an error in your reported wages, the Missouri Department of Social Services will appoint a hearing officer from the Division of Legal Services. The hearing officer will hear your evidence and issue a decision on your modification. If you do not raise any factual issues, the Department’s Family Support Division can issue an order without a hearing, but you can appeal this order to the court.

Judicial Modification

Missouri courts also have authority to modify a child support order, and you can seek modification through the courts at any time if your circumstances have changed. You must file a petition with the court and serve a copy on your ex-spouse. If your ex-spouse disputes the change, the court will likely order a hearing before issuing a new order. At the hearing, both sides can present evidence about why the order should or should not be modified.

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