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Understanding when California child support orders can be changed

Generally speaking, a child support order is no longer enforced when a child reaches the age of majority, or 18 years old. However, as we discussed in a previous blog post, dependant, unmarried children are entitled to child support until they complete high school or turn 19 years old, according to California law. In other words, child support payments often need to be made after a child’s 18th birthday.

If parents decide to divorce when their kids are relatively young, child support payments are made over the course of many years. During this time, a parent’s financial situation could change significantly, which could alter the child’s needs or ability of one parent to make monthly payments. Realistically speaking, a parent’s financial fortunes could change overnight too.

In the event that the existing court-enforced child support agreement is no longer suitable, parents may need to consider a court-approved modification. Rather than becoming delinquent on payments, it’s better to go this route rather than unnecessarily creating legal trouble or hard feelings.

The Judicial Branch of California lays out some scenarios in which it is appropriate for parents to request that a child support agreement is lowered or increased. The criteria for modification include:

At least one parent has a significant change in income.
A parent has lost his or her job.
One parent is imprisoned.
Time spent with one parent changes significantly.
The child has changing needs in terms of health care, child care or education.
Any of the factors used to calculate the initial child support payments have changed.
In certain circumstances, both parents might realize that a change is necessary and come to an agreement without the intervention of the court system. When this happens, parents can work with attorneys to create an amended agreement and submit it to a judge for approval.

On the other hand, parents may not always see eye to eye about proposed modifications. In this case, a family law judge can weigh the facts and determine whether or not a modification is appropriate. Either way, the new settlement must be approved by the court in order to be enforced.

Source: The Judicial Branch of California, “Changing a Child Support Order,” accessed July 11, 2014