When a California couple divorces with minor children in the picture, the court will issue a child support order as part of the final divorce decree. The court determines child support based on statutory guidelines and its own assessment of the family's circumstances.
If the situation changes and you need to change the child support amount, you can request a modification. Your lawyer can tell you more about the best approach in this matter.
Informal arrangements may not work out
The first thing to know is that you should always request the change through the court. Many parents, especially those who are able to maintain amicable relationships, feel it is easier to just make an informal arrangement with one another. However, things change, disagreements arise and a previously pleasant relationship can turn sour. To avoid future problems such as allegations of non-payment, it is best to comply with the existing court order until you obtain an official modification.
Because the court issued the original order based on the best interests of the child at the time, it will only modify this order if relevant circumstances have changed substantially. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to deciding what changes are substantial enough; instead, courts look at the specific situation.
Some types of circumstances that may warrant a change include a permanent change to the parent's ability to pay or an increase/decrease in the child's need. For instance, a child may develop a health condition that will continue to require regular payments. When the paying parent benefits from a substantial increase of wealth, the court may boost support. However, California courts will usually not adjust support based on a parents' spouse's income unless the child suffers serious hardship.
A parent requesting modification should file a motion with the court that issued the original order, and the other parent will have the opportunity to respond. Both parties will generally submit financial and other relevant information. The court may decide the issue based on these submissions, or it may order a hearing.