How to Modify an Existing Child Support Obligation

  1. Family Law
  2. How to Modify an Existing Child Support Obligation

When a divorce involves children, child support is one of the issues that must be addressed by a family law attorney. Depending on the age of the children, support may continue for many years and during that time things can change. Parents can lose a job or find new employment with a change in income, the paying parent could become temporarily or permanently disabled, or a variety of other events could affect the ability to pay child support in the future.

Washington law recognizes two court procedures affecting child support — modification and adjustment.

Basic Court Procedures

A person requesting a child support change is called the petitioner. To request a change in child support, the petitioner must file a petition and specific Washington State worksheets required by the court in modification proceedings. The petitioner must then serve a copy of those documents on the other party with a summons.

The responding party then has 20 days to file an answer (60 days if served outside of Washington) and their version of the worksheets, and then serve copies on the petitioner. If the responding party misses this deadline, they can be found in default and the requested modification may be approved by the court.

How to Modify Child Support

A Petition to Modify Support will not be granted randomly. The petitioner must show a substantial change of circumstances that was not contemplated when the original support order was entered. Different time frames apply to different situations.

You can legally request a modification of support:

  • Anytime if you can prove a substantial change of circumstances.
  • After 1 year since the original order (or any subsequent modification) was entered without showing a substantial change:
    • if the current order places a severe economic hardship on either party or the child
    • based on the child’s age category or his needs beyond his 18th birthday, or
    • to automatically adjust the support under Washington law.
  • After 2 years since the last support order was entered without having to show a substantial change if there has been:
    • a change in the income of the parents
    • a change in the economic table or standards set by Washington law.

Rather than having a trial, modifications are generally finalized through mandatory arbitration.

Requesting a Child Support Adjustment

A child support adjustment is a legal proceeding that adjusts or changes an existing Order of Child Support. A Motion to Adjust Child Support is more limited in scope than a modification. All child support orders may be adjusted once every twenty-four months based upon changes in the income of the parents without a showing of substantially changed circumstances.

Either party can initiate a support adjustment by filing an appropriate motion and the required worksheets. There is no filing fee to request an adjustment.

Important Closing Points

  • Support modifications are only effective prospectively. In other words, changes will only affect support payments owed after a petition for modification or motion for adjustment is filed and everyone has notice about the request.
  • If you are obligated to prove a substantial change in circumstances, voluntary unemployment or underemployment is not enough to modify support. This prevents parents from quitting a job to avoid support obligations.
  • If the amount of support increases significantly (30% or more) the increase can be implemented in two phases, one immediately and the other 6 months later.

Changing an existing Order of Child Support is not an easy process. If you need a modification, you might be hesitant to retain a family law attorney. However, trying to navigate the legal system on your own can cost more than you might pay in attorney’s fees.

Attorney Gregory L. Davies has decades of experience as a caring family law attorney helping clients modify their child support obligations to match their financial abilities. If you think your existing child support order should be changed, call Davies Law at (425) 259-2755 or complete our simple form to set up a free initial consultation to discuss your specific circumstances and how we can help. We also offer virtual meetings if you prefer.

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