Changing a Child Support Order

After a judge makes a child support order, 1 or both parents (or the LCSA if they are involved in the case) may want to change the order.  You have to show that there has been a “change in circumstances” since the last child support order was made.

If the parties signed a written stipulation (agreement), which was approved and signed by the judge, to a child support amount below the guideline amount, you can ask to change that amount at any time. You do NOT need to show a change in circumstances.

There are many good reasons why a child support order might need to be changed. Some of these reasons are:

  • The income of 1 or both parents has changed;
  • One parent has lost his or her job;
  • One parent has been incarcerated**;
  • One parent had another child from another relationship;
  • There have been significant changes in how much time the child in the case spends with each parent;
  • The child's needs may have changed and there may be more (or less) costs for child care, health care, or education; and
  • There have been changes in any of the factors that are used to calculate child support.

If the parents (and the LCSA if involved in the case) can reach an agreement on a new amount of child support, they can write it up as a stipulation and give it to the judge for signature and to have it become a new order.

But if the parents cannot agree on the change, 1 of the parents (or the LCSA if involved in the case) must file a motion with the court asking for a change (called a "modification").

Keep in mind that unless the judge signs a new court order, the existing child support amount and order will not be changed. So, to protect yourself, even if you have a verbal agreement with the other parent to change the child support amount, put it in writing and have a judge sign it. That way you have a current child support order that reflects the current amount.

Sometimes people think they should ask the court to change a child support order because they think the amount will go down, but when they get to court they find out that, instead, the amount went up. The same is true the other way around, when someone who receives child support thinks that if they go to court they will get more money and it turns out that the new court order is less.

This happens because it is very difficult to know exactly how changes to the factors that go into the child support calculation will affect the child support amount. And people often do not count on the fact that other factors may have changed too. So, for example, let us say that your income went down since the last order and you file a request to lower your child support. If your time with your children also went down, you may find out when you get to court that the child support amount actually goes up.  Also, the other parent may have had changes in his or her circumstances that you do not know about that may affect the child support amount in a way you did not expect.

So, before you decide to ask for a change in child support, it is a good idea to re-calculate the amount of child support in your case to make sure you should go back to court, or even if it is worth it if the new amount is just dollars less (or more) than the old one.

To estimate how much child support the judge may order in your case, you can go to the family law facilitator in your court.  The facilitator can run several calculations to show you different possibilities. That way, you are prepared for what could happen in court.  The facilitator can also help you fill out and file the paperwork you need to go to court.

You can also do the calculations yourself with the California Guideline Child Support Calculator. To understand how to fill in the information in the Child Support Calculator, download the User Guide. Remember, your calculation may only give you an estimate. The amount the judge orders you to pay may be different based on information from the other parent or other factors that affect child support.

It can also help you to know what the other parent's income currently is.  If you have a judgment in your case (like if your divorce has been completed, or there is a judgment of paternity), you can have someone at least 18 years old (NOT you) serve a Request for Production of an Income and Expense Declaration After Judgment (Form FL-396) on the other parent, along with a blank Income and Expense Declaration (Form FL-150).

The other parent who receives the request must fill out the Income and Expense Declaration and return it within 30 days after it was served. At the same time, the other parent must also send a copy of his or her most recent state and federal tax returns.

If there is a significant change in any of the factors that go into figuring out child support (like if income goes down because of job loss or fewer work hours, or time with the children changes), you need to act right away to change your child support order to reflect the changes.

People often wait to change the support order because:

  • They think the job loss or the drop in income, for example, is temporary;
  • They are stressed and worried and child support is the last thing on their mind;
  • They are in a situation where it is very difficult to file court papers, like if they are in jail or prison;
  • They think it will be easy to change it later when they have time or are less stressed or are out of jail; or
  • For many other reasons, going to court to change child support does not seem like a priority to them.

BUT if you wait, you will not be able to change your child support order as of the date you lost your job or your income went down.

CHILD SUPPORT CANNOT BE CHANGED RETROACTIVELY!  This means that if you lost your job 3 months ago but are just now filing papers in court to change your support order because you have no income, the judge is NOT allowed to make an order going back to the day you lost your job. 

The judge can ONLY change your child support from the date you filed your papers in court asking for the change.  So you will not only be unemployed, but you will also owe 3 months of child support at the old amount plus whatever interest is accruing on that back (past-due) child support.

To protect yourself, when you go through a significant change that could change the child support amount, you need to ask for the change in your child support order as soon as possible.

If you are incarcerated, you can file a motion directly with the court asking that your support be changed. If you are incarcerated and need help, you can get help by writing a letter to your family law facilitator (or ask a friend or family member to go in person to the office) to ask the facilitator to help you file papers in court by mail. If the local child support agency (LCSA) is involved in your case, you can try to contact them directly by writing a letter to your caseworker. But, as you will see below, it can take time for the LCSA to change your child support so, if you do this, make sure they can do it quickly.

If the LCSA is involved, either because they filed the case originally or 1 of the parents asked them to help with enforcement of the child support order, the parent who wants to change the order can ask the LCSA to file the paperwork to go to court.  Either parent can do this, regardless of which parent asked the LCSA to get involved.

Contact your LCSA and tell them you want “a review and adjustment” of the child support order.  If you think the other parent may agree to the change, the LCSA may be able to contact him or her and work out an agreement that you can both sign. Once the agreement is signed by the judge, you have a new child support court order.

Keep in mind that the LCSA has a lot of cases and that they are required by law to go through certain steps before they can file papers to go to court to change child support. The LCSA can take up to 180 days to complete the review and adjustment process and get an order from the court. If you are willing to wait or if they can help you change your court order quickly by agreement or some other way, you can ask the LCSA to help.

But if you cannot wait because child support will continue to accumulate, you can file papers yourself to go to court and get a new court order.  Remember, the judge cannot go back to the date that changes happened for you that made you unable to pay child support.  The judge can change your child support order as of the date that you file your papers to go to court.  So the sooner you file, the sooner you can get your court order changed to avoid accumulating unpaid back child support.

Even if the LCSA is involved in your case, you have the right to file the papers to go to court yourself.  Just follow the instructions below. Or get help from your family law facilitator. The facilitator can help you with the paperwork. And he or she can make sure it is a good idea to go to court to change your child support.

To ask for a court hearing to change your existing child support order:

1. Fill out your court forms
Fill out:

Read Which Financial Form - FL-155 or FL-150? (Form DV-570) to find out if you can use the simpler Form FL-155. And use the Information Sheet for Request for Order (Form FL-300-INFO) to learn how to fill out Form FL-300.

Note: A Request for Order (Form FL-300) does not necessarily mean the other side has to show up to the court hearing. In some cases, you may want or need the other side to come to court. To find out more about how to make sure they come to court or whether it would be helpful in your case, click to learn about Notices to Attend a Hearing and Subpoenas.

2. Have your forms reviewed
Ask your court's family law facilitator to review your paperwork. The facilitator can make sure you filled it out properly before you move ahead with your case. You can also hire your own lawyer to review your papers or to get legal advice, either with your entire case, or just the parts of it that you may need more help with (called “limited scope representation” or “unbundling”). Click for help finding a lawyer. Click to learn more about “limited scope representation.”

3. Make at least 2 copies of all your forms 
One copy will be for you; another copy will be for your child's other parent. The original is for the court. If the LCSA is involved in your case, make 3 copies.

4. File your forms with the court clerk 
Turn in your forms to the court clerk. The clerk will keep the original and return the copies to you, stamped "Filed."  You may have to pay a filing fee. If you cannot afford the fee, you can ask for a fee waiver. If the LCSA is involved in your case and support is the only issue, you will not be charged a filing fee.

5. Get your court date
The clerk will give you a court date and write it on your Form FL-300.  If you are also asking for custody orders, you may also get a date for mediation.

6. Serve your papers on the other parent (and the LCSA if involved)
Have someone at least 18 (NOT you) serve the other parent and the LCSA (if involved) with a copy of your papers and a blank Responsive Declaration to Request for Order (Form FL-320) and blank Income and Expense Declaration (Form FL-150).

You can serve the other parent (and the LCSA if involved) by mail.  You can serve the other parent (and the LCSA if involved) by mail. It must be done at least 16 court days before the hearing plus 5 calendar days for mailing. And remember, someone else — not you — must mail the papers. You can also have someone else serve your papers in person, and if so, it must be done at least 16 court days before the hearing.

For more information about "service."  Look at the front of Form FL-300 to see if the court ordered you to serve any other documents.

7. File your proof of service
Have your server fill out a Proof of Service by Mail (Form FL-335) for the other parent (and another for the LCSA if involved in the case).  You must then file the Proof (or Proofs) of Service with the court.  It is very important your server fills out the Proof (or Proofs) of Service correctly. If possible, have your family law facilitator review this paperwork to make sure it was filled out properly.

If the papers were served in person, your server has to fill out a Proof of Personal Service (Form FL-330).

8.  Go to your court hearing
Go to your court hearing, and take a copy of all your papers and your Proof (or Proofs) of Service.

Read Going to Court to find out how to prepare for your court hearing.

Keep in mind family law facilitator can help you mediate your child support issues. So even after you ask for a court date, you can try to work out child support with your child’s other parent, and the family law facilitator can help you. If you can work out an agreement, the facilitator can help you write it up and turn it in to the judge for his or her signature, making it a court order. If the LCSA is involved in your case, they will need to sign the agreement as well. If you do not reach an agreement in mediation, you can still go in front of the judge so he or she can make a decision in your case. The facilitator will not be able to write up the agreement if the LCSA is involved in the case since they have to agree to and sign any agreement between the parents.

After the court hearing
Once the judge makes a decision at the court hearing, the judge will sign a court order. Remember that the court may make child support orders as well as medical support orders.

In some courtrooms, the clerk or court staff will prepare this order for the judge's signature. In other courtrooms, it is the responsibility of the person who asked for the hearing to prepare the court order for the judge to sign. If there is a lawyer (if either side has a lawyer or if the LCSA is involved), the lawyer will usually be asked to prepare the order.  If the LCSA prepares the order, they will use special forms used for their hearings.

If you have to prepare this order, you will need to fill out the Findings and Order After Hearing (Form FL-340) and the Child Support Information and Order Attachment (Form FL-342).  If you have a child support calculation that matches the order, that should be attached to the order as well.  If the judge ordered a child support amount different from the state guideline, you will instead need to fill out the Non-Guideline Child Support Findings Attachment (Form FL-342(A)).

For all child support orders, attach a Notice of Rights and Responsibilities — Health-Care Costs and Reimbursement Procedures (Form FL-192) (there is nothing to fill out with this form, but read it carefully). Also, if there were any other orders made, like child custody and visitation, those forms have to be filled out and attached too.

Every time the court makes a child support order (even if it is after a stipulation between the parents), each parent has to fill out a Child Support Case Registry Form (Form FL-191), even if you already filled it out the first time you got your child support order.   This form is confidential and will not be kept in the court's files. It is kept in a confidential file with the State of California. It registers the case in a national registry to help with child support enforcement.  If any of the information you provide on this form changes, you have to complete a new form and deliver it to the court clerk within 10 days of the change. If the LCSA is involved with your case, they will send the information to the child support registry electronically and you will not need to complete Form FL-191.

Remember, the family law facilitator can probably help you with all these forms. So ask the facilitator for help or have him or her review the forms to make sure you did not make any mistakes.