Child support is simply money one parent pays to the other to provide for the needs of the child. Because a parent’s support obligation stems from a court order, there are serious consequences for falling behind on support payments or stopping them altogether. In some cases, these consequences include jail time.

If you cannot pay child support, you may be able to convince a judge to modify your support order. California law allows for support modifications when there is a substantial change in circumstances.

What constitutes a substantial change in circumstances?

For a successful modification request, you must show the change in circumstances occurred after the court issued its last support order. The following changes may be sufficient to support a modification:

  • An increase or decrease in either parent’s income
  • A change in either parent’s visitation schedule
  • A change in the custody arrangement
  • Incarceration of the paying parent
  • Military deployment of either parent

A substantial change is one that is not minor or inconsequential. For changes in income, courts typically require the modification request to affect child support by 20% or $50, whichever is less.

Is there a risk in seeking a support modification?

Either the paying or receiving parent may ask a court to modify an existing child support order. Asking for a modification, though, is not free from risk. After all, if it is in the best interests of the child, a judge may choose to increase the amount of child support you must pay.

Staying on top of child support requires being proactive. Put simply, if you are struggling to pay, exploring a support modification is likely a better approach than missing payments.