An order to pay child support can be changed (or modified) by the court or administrative agency that issued the order if the circumstances of either parent change after the order is issued. Until an order is changed, terminated or vacated, the amount ordered is owed and legally enforceable. To understand how the law applies in your situation, you should seek legal advice from a licensed attorney.
How to Request a Change to a Support Order
Either parent with a child support case can ask the Child Support Program to review their support order to see if the order should be changed. Parents can also file a petition in circuit court to change their support order.
What Happens When You Ask the Child Support Program to Review Your Support Order
First, the parent making the request gives their financial and other information to the Child Support Program for review. Once this information is received, the Program contacts the other parent to obtain their information. The Program reviews the parents' information to determine if there is a substantial, permanent, and involuntary change, or it appears there are other legal grounds to change the order. When the Program completes the review, it mails the results to both parents.
If the Program Determines the Order Should Change
If the review shows the order should be changed, the Program may start a proceeding to change the order. The steps to change an order depend on whether the order is a court order, an administrative support order issued by the Program or if another state issued the order. To change a court order, the Program involves a Program attorney who handles the court action. To change an administrative support order, the Program starts by notifying the parents of the proceeding to change the order. Parents are entitled to a formal hearing before a court or administrative order is changed.
If the support order was issued by another state, that state may need to review and modify the order, if appropriate. If that is the case and you make the request to the Program, we will forward your request to the other state.
If the Program Determines the Order Should Not Change
If the Program determines the order should not change, we notify the parents of our decision and take no further action.
What is a Change in Circumstances?
The parent seeking to change (or modify) a support order has the burden to prove a change in circumstances. In most cases, before an order can be changed, a parent's change in circumstances must be substantial, permanent, and involuntary.
If it has been less than three years since the support order was issued, reviewed or changed, a substantial change means that the change in circumstances would cause a change in the order amount that is at least 15 percent but not less than $50. If it has been more than three years since the support order was issued, reviewed, or changed, a change in circumstances means the change would cause a change in the order amount of at least 10 percent but not less than $25.
A permanent change in circumstances depends on the specific facts of the case. In most cases, to prove a permanent change, one must show the change has lasted for six months or more. Temporary or short-term changes are not enough to prove a lasting, permanent change. For example, a loss of employment is not a permanent change if you expect to find new employment. In some cases, a parent may be able to prove a permanent change right away; for example, a severe, life-changing injury or illness or retirement at the normal retirement age.
An involuntary change, comes about through no fault of the parent, like an extended illness or employment layoff. A voluntary change is a result of the parent's own choices. A voluntary change does not meet the standard for a support order to be changed. Examples of voluntary changes include quitting a job, being terminated for reasons within the parent's control, taking a lower paying job, or engaging in criminal conduct that results in incarceration.
Note: A support order change (modification) involves applying the law to the specific facts of the case. The general principles here are only a partial statement of the law and are not legal advice. Only a licensed attorney is authorized to provide legal advice based on the specific circumstances of your case.
Either parent can file their own petition in circuit court to change (modify) a support order. You can hire a lawyer of your choosing or file your own petition and represent yourself. Other resources you may find helpful include: