Modifying Child Support
A little bit about child support
In California, child support is usually set using a formula that is laid out by statute. This amount of support is called “guideline support.” Guideline support is presumed to be the correct amount of support unless the court receives good reasons that it should be higher or lower.
If the Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) is not involved in the case, parents can agree to set support at any amount they would like, guideline or not, as long as they agree that it is in the best interest of the child(ren). If DCSS is involved in the case, then the DCSS attorney will have to agree to any support agreement reached by the parents as well.
The amount of child support is modifiable at any time. This is true even if you reached an agreement about support last week or your agreement was supposed to last for the next two years.
Modification by agreement
If you and the other parent are able to reach an agreement about support, you can set support how you would like, with or without going to court to get an order. However, if the agreement is not part of a court order and one side doesn’t fulfill their part, it is going to be difficult to enforce that agreement. You will need to go to court to get a court order and then enforce it. In order to ensure that the support agreement is enforceable, we recommend making sure it is a court order.
If you reach an agreement and want to make it a court order, you can both sign a stipulation and order (written agreement) and submit it to the judge to sign. The law requires that certain statements be made as part of an agreement about child support, so this is something that you will probably want to get assistance with preparing, from the self-help center, an attorney, or other legal resource. If the wording is not correct, the judge will not be permitted to sign it under California law.
Modification through the court
If you and the parent are not able to reach an agreement, modification will need to be done through the court.
It is important that you begin the modification process as soon as you realize that it is needed. When you file your paperwork with the court, this does something called “reserving retroactivity.” This means that any changes the court makes will go into effect going back to the date you filed, even if your hearing is much later.
To modify child support, you usually need to show a change in circumstances. This is something that means that the previous amount of support is not appropriate anymore. In some circumstances, you may not have to show a change, but you should talk to an attorney or other legal assistance to determine if this applies to you. One very common change in circumstances is when one parent loses their job. At that point, they may not be able to pay the child support amount any longer. By going to court, they can ask that the amount be lowered while they are looking for work and/or on unemployment.
While the unemployed parent is there, the court may order what is called a “seek work order” which means that the unemployed parent has to show proof that they are making efforts to find work using the court’s standards.
The way to ask for a child support modification is through a Request for Order (FL-300). This needs to be filled out and you need to provide information about why this change is needed. You will also need to fill out an Income and Expense Declaration (FL-150) because the court will want to know your up to date financial information. You may want to seek assistance in preparing your Request for Order to ensure that you include the information the court needs. You can contact an attorney or your county’s self-help center for assistance.
Once you’ve filled out the FL-300, FL-150, and any other documents you need, file those documents with the court. The court will give you a hearing date. A copy of all the filed paperwork must be served on the other parent, at least 16 days prior to the hearing (21 days if mailed). The service must be done by someone over the age of 18 who is not involved in the case. You cannot serve the documents yourself. The other parent then has time to file their own response paperwork and financial information.
Depending on your case, there may be other steps that you would like to take. This is something to discuss with an attorney or with someone at self-help.
Have questions about modifying child support? Contact Romanovska Law to learn more.