Stephen J. Buhler, Attorney at Law

When can someone modify a child support order?

When Salt Lake City residents face important decisions in their lives, it is vital that proper planning and foresight are used. At the same time, even the best laid plans cannot cover everything, as circumstances change over time.

This is certainly true in the family law system, as families experience many different changes over the years. Accordingly, an order that was entered in a divorce action from months or years ago may no longer work for one or both parties if circumstances have changed.

Recently, for example, this blog discussed how courts calculate the amount of child support a non-custodial parent needs to pay. This amount will typically be established in a court order. However, over time, individuals may need to seek changes in that order.

If a payor experiences a job loss, for instance, he or she may no longer be able to make the monthly payments required by the order. In other cases, a payor might have been promoted to a job that pays a higher income, in which the recipient might seek to increase the monthly child support payments.

Utah law spells out different ways in which parties can seek child support modification. If there is a difference between the ordered child support amount and the amount required under the guidelines, the person can file a motion to modify child support if the proposed amount is consistent with the guidelines. On the other hand, if the proposed amount is not consistent with the guidelines, the person must file a petition to modify child support.

In both cases, there typically must have been three or more years between the amount of the order and the motion or petition, and a 10 percent difference in the proposed guidelines support amount and the ordered amount. However, parties can also seek to modify a child support order if less than three years has transpired, but more is required to obtain the modification. Namely, there must have been some material change in the circumstances, which includes things like a change in custody, a change of 30 percent or more in the income of a parent, a change in the employment potential and ability of a parent to earn or a change in the medical needs of the child. These are just some of the circumstances that may support a modification, but the bottom line is that courts require more when an order has not been established for three years or more.

Source: Utah Courts, "Modifying child support," accessed on June 4, 2016

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