Parents have an obligation to financially support their children. When families live together and income is shared, it is easy to make sure that the kids’ needs are met. Things become significantly more complicated when parents get divorced or separated. In order to make sure that the split doesn’t affect children adversely, California often imposes child support obligations.

Child support must be figured out before a divorce or separation can be finalized. Parents must complete financial disclosures and provide information to help the court determine an appropriate amount of child support. In most cases, the parent who earns the most and/or spends the least amount of time with the child will be ordered to pay child support.

The child support order that is finalized in a divorce is permanent. However, it is possible to modify a court order for child support. Either parent can request a modification if circumstances in life change. Here’s what you need to know about when you can modify a child support order in California, and when you can’t. If you need more help, see our guide on how to find a good divorce lawyer.


When Can I Modify a Child Support Order?

Life can change in the blink of an eye. Sometimes those changes can affect important factors that go into calculating child support. If you or your child’s other parent have experienced significant life changes, you have the right to request a modification to your child support order. However, there are only grounds that will be considered appropriate for modification.

Changes in Income

Income and ability to pay are two of the most important factors that are considered in the calculation of child support. If your income decreases, you can ask a court to reduce your child support obligations. Less income reduces your ability to pay. If your income increases, your child support payments may increase. Your child’s other parent may request a modification to increase the order if they learn that you are bringing in additional money.


It’s important to understand that incarceration does not automatically end a parent’s obligation to pay child support. In fact, you will be required to pay interest on any child support payments that are missed because of incarceration. When you are incarcerated you must file a petition with the court to modify the order. When requesting the modification, you will explain that circumstances have changed and that you are no longer employed because of imprisonment.

Once a parent is released from prison, the other parent has the right to request a modification to increase child support. However, the parent’s ability to pay will still be taken into consideration.

Loss of Job

Losing your job may affect your ability to pay child support. If you can prove that you are no longer employed, the court may approve a request to modify your child support obligations.

Amount of Time Spent With the Children

The amount of time you spend with your child, or timeshare custody, is very relevant for child support purposes. The less time you spend with your kid, the higher your child support obligations are likely to be. If you begin to spend more time with your children, you can ask a court to modify and decrease your support obligations. At the same time, a parent can also request more support if the other parent begins to spend less and less time with their child.

Additional Children

The number of children you have will affect your child support obligations. If you have additional children you can ask the court to reduce your current child support payments. Each additional child you have will require your financial assistance. The court will attempt to balance your support obligations with the number of dependents you have.

Child’s Needs Have Changed

Child support is ordered to make sure that children have the financial assistance and support they need after a divorce. There will be times when a child’s needs change. If current child support payments cannot cover the costs of those changes, a parent can request a modification for additional support. It will be important to provide specific information about the changes in the child’s life and document the need for additional money.

When Can’t I Modify a Child Support Order?

Courts will not always authorize a petition to modify a child support order.

You Voluntarily Left Your Job

Did you quit or leave your job to purposefully drive down your income to reduce child support obligations? If a court thinks so, they will simply “impute” income to you and reject your request to modify the child support order. Imputing income means that the court will simply factor in your old income, even though you are no longer receiving it. As a result, you’ll be treated as having the same income and ability to pay as you did before you quit.

The Modification Would Be Slight

Courts will consider a petition to modify a child support order if there has been a substantial change in a parent’s life or the child’s needs. However, the court typically won’t approve a modification unless the change is at least $50 or 20% of the existing order, whichever is less.

You Don’t Want to Pay

Courts will require a valid reason to modify an existing court order for child support. The fact that you don’t want to pay or believe that support is unnecessary (without actual proof) isn’t enough to modify an order. If you don’t satisfy your support orders you can face some serious consequences. Courts will require you to pay interest on any missed payments and may even hold you in contempt of court. This can land you behind bars and make your life much more complicated than it needs to be. If you really don’t think that support is necessary, or that you’re being ordered to pay too much, you need to have actual proof and documentation.

Child support is paid to make sure that children are taken care of after their parents split up. Modifications will only be approved when there is a verifiable and significant change in a parent’s or child’s life. It’s important to consult with an experienced family law attorney if you want to modify your current child custody order.


Leave a Comment