Child support is meant to provide support for minor children based on the economic circumstances of that child’s parents. Sometimes after an order of child support is entered a child changes age brackets, gets close to graduating from high school , or other significant enough changes in circumstances occur, that it is necessary to modify the order of child support to reflect current circumstances.
RCW 26.09.175 sets for the procedure for modification of an order of child support. It requires that modification proceedings begin by the filing of a summons and petition. These documents must be served on the other party (service requirements vary depending on where order was entered). (There is also a process for adjustment of child support that has separate procedure that is not covered here. That said, while it offers more limited remedies, it can be a quicker and less expensive process and should be considered prior to filing a modification action.) Prior to filing an action for modification, a cost-benefit analysis must be done to ensure that the modification will be worth the resources.
An order of child support may be modified at any time based on a substantial change of circumstances. RCW 26.09.170(5)(a). Whether there is a substantial change of circumstances is fact-specific, and can be a difficult to prove. In some cases, it may be advisable to wait for time to pass before filing for a modification. After one year has passed, an order may be modified without a showing of a substantial change or circumstances if the order in practice works a severe economic hardship on either party or the child; if a party requests and adjustment based on the change of age category of the child; if a child is still in high school, upon a finding that the child will need financial support beyond graduation; or to add an automatic adjustment provision. RCW 26.09.170(5)(b-d). This information does not provide for some of the other exceptions and requirements of modifying child support. Furthermore, adjustments and modifications may be permitted due to language in the original court order.
If your child support does need to be modified or adjusted, time is of essence. Child support may only be modified prospectively. The court may order the changes effective back to the date the petition for modification was filed, but not before that. As such, if you are an obligor (paying parent) paying too much, or an obligee (receiving parent) receiving too little, you may have an interest in having this modification action initiated as soon as possible.
If you think you have circumstances that warrant a modification or adjustment of your current order of child support, we would be happy to help you review your order and advise you on the best way to move forward.