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Can we modify our child support order if I lose my job?

On Behalf of | Feb 8, 2024 | Child Custody

For California parents paying child support, job loss can have a compounding effect. What you may not realize is that if you fall behind on child support, the consequences only escalate. This is why understanding the process of modifying child support orders in such situations is crucial.

Understanding child support

Child support in California is the monetary contribution one parent makes to the other for raising their child. Calculated using a guideline formula, factors include both parents’ income, time spent with the child, tax status, health insurance, childcare costs, the child’s special needs, etc. The court employs a “guideline calculator” for accurate calculations.

When can child support orders be modified?

While child support orders generally persist until the child turns 18 (or 19 if in high school), modifications can occur if circumstances change. Common changes include alterations in income, custody arrangements, family size, health insurance costs, childcare expenses or a parent’s disability or incarceration status.

Effect of job loss on child support

Losing a job is a significant change in circumstances that may warrant a modification of child support. However, not all job losses automatically lead to modifications. The impact depends on whether the loss affects income or expenses and whether it is temporary or permanent.

Modifying child support by agreement

Two avenues exist for modifying child support: mutual agreement or court order. The quickest route involves reaching an agreement with the other parent on a new support amount. This entails signing a written “stipulation” and filing it with the court. A stipulation is a formal agreement that, once approved by the court, becomes an official order.

By court order

If an agreement is unattainable, seeking a court order is necessary. This involves filing a “request for order” with the court, specifying desired changes and reasons. Income, expense details and other relevant factors must be provided. The court will schedule a hearing where both parents present arguments and evidence, and the judge decides based on the guideline formula and the child’s best interests.

Rules for modifying child support

Several rules govern child support modifications in California. Modification can be requested at any time, but changes only apply from the filing date, not retroactively. The court requires a significant difference, generally 20% or $50, between the current order and the guideline amount to approve modifications.

Both parents’ income is considered, and the court assesses the reason for job loss and efforts to secure new employment. If a parent voluntarily leaves employment or fails to make reasonable job-seeking efforts, income may be imputed based on earning capacity. Finally, the court looks at the impact on the child’s needs and well-being, potentially affecting the extent of the order adjustment.