Modification of Child Support Orders FAQ

Modifications to child support will not happen automatically. One of the parents must request the change by a formal motion (request) to the court. The court that made the original child support award has the authority to modify the order if conditions change. Either parent may request the court to change the order until the time the child is 18 years old.

When can child support orders be changed?

Child support orders cannot be changed on a whim. After an order has been in effect for a period of three years, however, a New Hampshire parent can petition the court for a modification of the amount of a child support order. It is possible to obtain an earlier modification if the parent can show the court there has been a substantial change in circumstances that would warrant a change. This usually requires that a person who wants to make the change show a significant changed circumstance. You must show that the facts that existed when the last order was entered have changed. For example, if one parent's income has changed (either gone up or down) by at least 25%, this may be considered a significant enough change to require a change in the support order.

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What circumstances might require a change in support?

There is no set standard for determining when a change in support is appropriate. Judges are individuals and have varying opinions on what they consider to be "changed circumstances." For example, if the paying parent has had a large increase in income, the court may order an increase in that parent's child support obligation. Or, if the child's financial needs increase, such as if the child becomes ill or disabled, the amount of the support order can be increased to account for higher medical or educational expenditures.. Sometimes the mere passage of time and inflation create the changed circumstances. For example, as a child grows older, it becomes more expensive to buy clothes, food, and other necessities, justifying an increase in the amount of support.

Support can also be reduced if you can show why this would be fair. For example, support payments may be reduced if the parent with residential responsibility inherits money, gets a large raise, or otherwise has an increased ability to support the children. Or, if the paying parent loses his or her job, the court can be asked to reduce support during the period of unemployment.

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Are verbal changes OK?

A mistake many parents make is to reach informal oral agreements modifying child support. This can lead to future problems. For example, the following scenario is very common:

Peter paid his former wife Alice $400 a month to support their son. When Peter was laid off, he called Alice and said, "I just got laid off. I can't afford to pay $400 right now." Alice responded, "Okay. Pay $100 for now."

Ten months later, Peter was rehired and raised his support payments back to $400. During his layoff, Peter had made 10 payments of $100. Alice called and told Peter she expected him to pay the $3000 he had not paid during the layoff. Peter replied that he did not owe the money because they had agreed to the child support reduction during his layoff. Alice disagreed. She claimed that she had not given up the right to $400 a month but had merely permitted Peter to defer full payment until he was rehired.

When Peter refused to pay, Alice took him to court. The judge ruled that the evidence did not support Peter's claim that he was excused from $300 per month of his support during his layoff. He was ordered to pay the $3000 to Alice at the rate of $100 a month, in addition to the usual payments of monthly support.

The problem with oral agreements is that they are often vaguely worded and the memories or understanding of the parties may often differ. Any agreement you make to modify child support should be put in writing so that there are no misunderstandings later on. It is also a good idea to have a judge sign a court order based on the agreement.

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