Once the court has issued a child support order, it can only be changed through a “modification.” This involves filing a petition to modify and appearing at a hearing. However, there are stipulations on when and why a change can be made to a previous order.
Petition to Modify Child Support Order
A petition to modify child support order can be filed if one year has passed since the initial order, and only if:
The payments are causing severe financial hardship to a parent or a child;
The child has turned 18 but is still in high school; or,
There has been a drastic change in financial circumstances.
Child support modification proceedings can take three to six months to complete. Either party can file a motion for a temporary order while waiting. If either parent requests a modification of child support less than one year from the original order, they must be able to demonstrate a substantial change in circumstances, such as an increase or decrease in income or job loss.
The courts carefully review requests based on a reduced income. If they find that a paying parent intentionally attempts to avoid child support, the judge may assign payments based on what the parent could make.
Motion for Adjustment of Child Support
Once two years have passed since the initial child support order and if either parent’s income has changed, filing a motion for adjustment of child support is a quicker way to modify payments. It often requires less paperwork and only a single hearing to resolve.
How To Begin a Child Support Modification Action
To request an increase or reduce child support payments, you must file a petition for modification and the necessary child support worksheets at your local court clerk’s office. These forms can be found on the Washington State Office of the Administrator for the Court’s website. Once filed, you must serve the child’s other parent a copy of the petition and file proof of service with the court. The other parent has 20 days to respond if they reside in Washington and 60 days if they live out of state. Once a response is filed, either party can schedule a hearing. If the other parent fails to respond, you can schedule a default hearing according to local rules, and the court may issue a default judgment.
Child Support and Parenting Time
Parenting time is a separate issue from child support. Whether a parent sees their child does not impact their obligation to pay child support. Likewise, a parent cannot refuse to let the other parent see their child if support is not being paid. Withholding court-ordered parenting time is a violation, which means the court can impose penalties.
How Do the Courts Enforce Child Support Modifications?
If your child’s other parent is behind on court-ordered child support payments, there are options for enforcement.
The Division of Child Support (DCS)
You can ask DCS for help collecting support. Rather than making payments directly to you, the non-custodial parent ordered to pay child support must make payments to DCS. The payments are then recorded and forwarded to you. If payments are not made on time, DCS has the right to garnish the non-paying parent’s wages, suspend their driver’s license, or take court action against them.
Motion for Contempt
Another option is to hire an attorney to help you file a Motion for Contempt. Once the court is informed, they may impose penalties upon the non-custodial parent, such as jail time until they pay.