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How can parents modify a California child support order?

Child support amounts are determined based on a number of factors, such as the child's educational expenses, medical expenses and everyday expenses. However, as many Alameda County residents might agree, the cost of raising a child can increase over time and that increase will demand a change in the child support amount. Similarly, there may be circumstances under which the non-custodial parent may wish a have the child support amount modified.

Considering those possibilities, California laws have provisions that permit child support modifications. According to the existing rules, the custodial parent, the non-custodial parent, a local child support agency or a child support agency from another state can file a request for child support modification. In order to file the petition, the parties involved can contact the local child support agency, go to court on their own or hire an attorney to guide them through the child support modification process.

It is, however, important to remember that child support will only be modified under special circumstances, which the court refers to as "a significant change in circumstances." Some examples of such significant changes are job loss or a new job, change in income, change in custody and visitation arrangements, change in the size of the family, disability, incarceration or active deployment.

When the request for child support modification is filed, California laws require local child support agencies to review certain documents that support the petitioner's request for child support modification. The child support agency then reviews those documents and determines whether to allow the child support modification. Typically, a modification request will be justified if the child support amount is likely to change by 20 percent, or $50, whichever is the lesser amount.

If the parents are able to agree about the modification of the child support amount, they will have to sign an agreement and inform the court. Otherwise, the court schedules a hearing where both the custodial and non-custodial parent must appear and the court will determine the modified child support amount. There may also be certain cases in which the child support modification occurs across state borders. In that case, the child support agencies in respective states will coordinate with each other and determine the modified child support amount and, if required, the matter will be decided in court.

Source: ChildSup.CA.gov, "Changing Your Child Support Amount," Sept. 2014

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