What to Expect at a Child Support Modification Hearing in California?

By Rachel Lucio

A hearing for a modification of child support can be a stressful event, especially if the parties involved do not know what to expect in the courtroom. Much like any California court proceeding, the two opposing parties will be present along with any legal counsel they've hired. A judge will also be present to preside over the hearing and ultimately decide the case.

Presentation

A child support modification hearing in California occurs when either the custodial or non-custodial parent files a form with the court alleging the occurrence of a life event that would affect the amount of child support to be paid. A modification hearing can determine whether the amount of child support will increase or decrease from the amount currently stipulated in the child support order. Both parties will need to provide documentation supporting their financial status for review by the court. The party with the alleged change in financial status should be prepared to make a statement to the court regarding the change, and provide supporting paperwork. Preparing a short statement in advance may reduce anxiety.

Evaluation

Statements to the court and supporting financial documents are reviewed by the court to determine if a change is justified. Current pay stubs, proof of expenses, retirement income, disability or unemployment income, and tax returns are some of the relevant documents that should be provided to the court for evaluation.

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Custody Impact

In addition to financial documentation, you should also provide the court with a copy of the current custody agreement, as well as documentation of any increase or decrease in the time that the child has been cared for by either the custodial or non-custodial parent. For example, if a non-custodial parent has experienced an increase in custodial time with the children, the change should be documented and submitted to the court for review; such a change might serve to ease the financial burden on the custodial parent, thereby leading to a reduction in the current order. Likewise, if the custodial parent has physically cared for the child more than what is stipulated in the custody agreement, the court may consider an increase in the ordered amount of child support.

Judge's Decision

After hearing presentations from both the custodial and non-custodial parent, and reviewing all applicable documentation submitted to the court, the judge will render a decision on whether a modification of the current child support order is necessary. Guidelines vary among states with regard to how large a change must be in order to trigger a modification. In California, a general guideline is that a modification is justified if the financial change affects the amount of child support by either 20 percent or $50, whichever is less. Nevertheless, any modification to the order is ultimately left to the discretion of the judge.

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