When a court issues a child support order, the amount of the support payments should be fair and affordable for the paying parent based on their income and several other factors. However, we all know that circumstances can change and your financial situation can change substantially over time. Often, a once-fair child support may no longer be appropriate for several reasons.
Not being able to afford child support is not a valid excuse for failing to pay. If a parent is having difficulty paying, they should not simply stop or ignore payments, as this can have serious consequences. Instead, this parent has the opportunity to request a child support modification from the court. On the other hand, if the financial situation of a parent who pays child support significantly improves, the order may need to be increased for it to remain fair. In this type of situation, the parent receiving support can request that the court modify the child support order.
When You can Modify Your Child Support Order
Courts will not modify a child support order for a small or temporary change in income or expenses. For example, if you have to take a month off work, a court will likely not grant you a modification. Instead, Arizona law requires that there is a “substantial and continuing change of circumstances.” The change in child support based on the changed circumstances must also be an increase or decrease of at least 15 percent for the courts to consider it.
Some life events that may qualify as a substantial change in circumstances for the purposes of modifying child support can include the following:
- Long-term unemployment
- Physical or mental disability
- Serious illness
- Remarriage that increases a household’s income
- Promotion, raise, or new employment with higher pay
- Increase in the expenses or special needs of the child
While remarriage can be a basis for increasing child support if the paying parent’s household income has increased substantially, remarriage and having new children is generally not a valid reason to request a decrease in child support. Even if a paying parent’s expenses have increased due to a new child or family members, the court will generally not penalize the existing children by decreasing their support. However, if the parent receiving support remarries and now has a two-income household, the paying parent may be able to argue for a decrease in support due to the other parent’s new resources.
In addition, a court will not modify a child support order if your unemployment or underemployment is not involuntary. In too many situations, a parent may choose to make less than they can in order to influence a child support modification. A court can often recognize when a parent is voluntarily not working and will then impute a certain amount of income based on the parent’s true earning potential.
If both parents can agree to modify child support, they will need to simply ask the court for approval. However, if one parent challenges the modification request, the court will hold a hearing and will base its decision and modification on evidence of the change in circumstances.