Valid reasons to change a child support order

Around the holidays, many of us feel a bit more financially stretched than we’d like. If you’re a divorced parent paying child support, this may be especially true.

Child support orders are crafted with the intent that children of divorced parents are entitled to the same amount of financial support they’d have if their parents were still married. As parents, we all want our children to have what they need, without question. It doesn’t matter whether you’re paying more support than your spouse, or less. But what happens when you realize things need to change because of loss of income or changed circumstances?

What are your options?

If you don’t think the child support order is fair when it’s made the first time, you can file an appeal, but you have only 20 days to do it. Sometimes, that’s not enough time to figure out that the number is too high to pay, or on the flip side, that it’s not enough to receive. Are you stuck?

No. In Pennsylvania you can file a petition to modify the existing support order, but you need a very good reason to do so. The fact that it’s difficult to make the required payments does not justify filing for a modification. Similarly, the fact it’s a stretch to make the amount cover what it needs to is not a reason for modification. But that doesn’t mean you’re expected to do the impossible.

What kind of situations warrant a change?

The law requires a “substantial and material change in circumstance” for either party in a support order. That can include but isn’t limited to:

  • Earning additional income
  • Receiving new, additional income sources or assets (such as an inheritance, lottery winnings or a second job)
  • Loss of income/lost job
  • Change in custody (adoption by a stepparent, for example)
  • A child covered by the order turning 18 (known as “emancipation”)

Talk with an experienced family law attorney if you think your existing support order needs to be modified. Having an ally on your side will ultimately lead to a more satisfying outcome.


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