While an initial child support order may make sense at the time it is ordered, parents’ circumstances change over time. Often, one or both parents would like to modify the child support order. California family law states that child support orders are modifiable “at any time as the court deems necessary.” As a general rule, courts will not revise a child support order unless there has been a “material change of circumstances.” But, what constitutes a material change in circumstances? Here are some examples:
- Changes in Parents’ Finances. A shift in either parent’s financial position is not necessarily enough for a child support modification. The court must examine both parties’ circumstances as a whole; and must also evaluate those circumstances in light of the statutory factors considered in fixing child support. If you or your former spouse have had a change in income or other financial situation, consider consulting a family law attorney to determine whether a child support modification could be beneficial.
- Percentage of Time Spent with Each Parent. The child support guidelines take into account how much time a child spends with each parent. Therefore, if this percentage changes, the amount of child support will also change.
- Hardship expenses. The court has discretion to modify a child support order by considering a deduction from income in the child support guideline calculation for a parent who is suffering from “extreme financial hardship” resulting from extraordinary health expenses, uninsured catastrophic loss, or the birth or adoption of new children (from another marriage or relationship.) The granting of the statutory hardship deduction is not automatic. The court must look into the facts of each case in determining how much, if any, deduction should be taken.
One other situation to keep in mind: if parents initially stipulated to a child support order below the statutory formula amount, no change of circumstances need to be demonstrated in order to obtain a modification of the child support to the applicable guideline level. The way I explain this is that child support is the right of the child – a parent can not contract it away.
Finally, parents cannot by agreement restrict the court’s authority to modify child support. A court will not enforce that agreement.