Motion to Change Support Order

By Tom Streissguth

If you are paying child support or spousal support, also known as alimony, but are going through a change in circumstances, you can petition the court for a modification of your divorce decree. Although laws and guidelines vary from one state to the next, all specify valid grounds for modification, including the loss of a job, illness or disability, remarriage of the custodial parent, or a change in the financial circumstances of you, your former spouse or your children.

Petitioning the Court

In most cases, you must file a petition or motion for modification in the court that has jurisdiction over your divorce decree, i.e. the court that originally handled your divorce action. In the case of child support, either the custodial or noncustodial parent can file the petition. It is not necessary to have an attorney assist you in drawing up or filing the motion, but legal representation may be helpful if you need to argue the grounds for modification or if the motion is contested by your former spouse.

Legal Grounds

A change in circumstances is not always sufficient grounds for modifying a support order. If you are paying the support, you must provide compelling evidence that you will be unable to meet the obligation for an indefinite period of time. If you are receiving the support, you must prove that changed circumstances in your own household justify the modification. In the case of child support, some states go strictly by their support guidelines; Vermont, for example, allows modification if a revised calculation using these guidelines results in a difference of at least 10 percent in the amount of child support that should be paid. Alternately, you may show that providing the originally ordered support amount is detrimental to the interests of another person, such as a child whom you now must support in your own household. Some states also allow modification when the custodial parent undergoes an improvement in her circumstances, such as a remarriage that substantially improves her financial condition.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More


Along with the motion, you will likely have to file a new calculation according to the support guidelines in your state. In most states, this comes in the form of a worksheet that you can download from an official court website (state attorney general offices also may provide this online). You can also obtain a worksheet in hard copy form from the court clerk; some states offer an online calculator to assist in this process. You will need a large set of data, including current income, health insurance costs, medical costs, household expenses, debts, education costs, and other financial factors of both households. Along with the worksheet, you must file supporting evidence, which may include W-2s, tax returns, documentation of unemployment or disability benefits, or any other document that will help your claim that the support amount should be changed.


As petitioner, you must have the motion, guidelines and any supporting documents served on the other party, known as the respondent. This can be done through a private process server or through a law enforcement agency, such as a county sheriff's department. There is a deadline for service after the motion is filed – in most jurisdictions, this is 20 or 30 days. If you are unable to have the papers served, you must file for an extension of time to do so. Once service has been effected, you must file proof of service with the court showing you have carried out this important step.

Hearing and Adjudication

The respondent has the right to file an answer within the statutory deadline – again, usually 20 or 30 days. Both spouses must attend a public hearing on the motion, during which a judge will review the documents and decide on the motion. If you no longer live within the jurisdiction of the court, you may (in some cases) petition to appear by telephone. If the respondent contests the motion, the judge will hear both sides and pose questions, if necessary, to determine the proper outcome. The motion may be approved or denied; a judge may also use his discretion in modifying the support order by a compromise. Until the court adjudicates the motion, the prior support order remains in effect and any arrearages continue to accrue.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More
How a Non-Custodial Parent Can Reduce Child Support Payments


Related articles

How Can I Get Alimony Modified in Florida?

Alimony is monetary support one spouse pays to the other after a divorce. In Florida, temporary, or rehabilitative, alimony is paid to provide a spouse with the opportunity to rehabilitate career or work skills. Permanent alimony is paid indefinitely, usually in long marriages where the receiving spouse did not develop work skills during the marriage. Florida courts modify alimony when there has been a substantial change in circumstances.

How to Write a Petition to Reduce Child Support Payments

In order to reduce your child support payments, you must petition the court and allow a judge to make a decision. This is usually referred to as filing a motion to modify child support. This process can vary slightly from state to state, but the general procedure is the same. To protect your interests, you should not reduce your child support payments without formally involving the court; an informal agreement between the parties cannot be enforced by a judge and the original order will be adhered to if conflicts arise. Also, petitioning the court does not mean that your child support payments will automatically be reduced. The judge must agree with you that your situation is substantial enough that it justifies a reduction.

How to File a Motion to Enforce Child Support in Texas

Your divorce decree probably included provisions for child support payments and custody, but if your ex-spouse doesn’t pay child support as ordered, you may need to return to court for help enforcing the child support order. Texas courts have broad authority to enforce their own child support orders once you file a motion, and the Child Support Enforcement division of the Attorney General’s Office may be able to help you file.

Get Divorced Online

Related articles

How to Reduce or Even Eliminate Alimony

As the economy declines and jobs are cut across the country, many individuals who pay alimony to their former spouses ...

How to File for Modification of Child Support in Alabama

You may file for modification of child support anytime a change in circumstances, as defined by Alabama law, has ...

Alabama Laws on Child Support & the Restart of Child Support

Child support in Alabama is usually determined in a straightforward manner. As in many other states, Alabama uses the ...

How to File a Motion for a New Pendente Lite Hearing for a Divorce

Pendente lite orders don’t last forever. They’re temporary until a judge rules on a final divorce decree, or until you ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED