While both parents have a responsibility under Washington law to financially support their children, changes in financial circumstances and related issues can justify a modification to a parent’s court-ordered child support obligation. However, it is important to remember that a parent’s child support obligation will stay the same amount until the court issues an order modifying the child support obligation. Either the custodial or the non-custodial parent can ask for a modification of child support if he or she meets certain requirements. As a general rule, a parent must show a substantial change in circumstances in order to have a child support order modified. However, a parent can petition for child support to be modified no more than once per year without a showing of changed circumstances, in certain situations. For instance, a parent may be able to modify a support obligation if the existing order causes a severe economic hardship to either parent or the child, the child’s age has changed when the support order was based on age, there is a need to extend child support beyond a child’s 18th birthday, or a parent wants to add an automatic adjustment of support to the order.

Some common changes in circumstances that might justify a child support modification include the following:

• One or both parents’ income or financial situation has substantially changed.
• Expenses related to raising your child have increased significantly.
• Your parenting plan has changed, such as changing from primary custody to shared custody.
• One parent is incarcerated.
• One parent has become disabled and unable to return to work.

You also should keep in mind that the change in circumstances that is necessary for a support modification generally must be involuntary in order for you to have your child support obligation modified. This means that your financial situation has changed through no fault of your own. For example, if you are laid off from your job, you may be eligible for a child support modification. But if you were fired from your job because you did something wrong or didn’t show up for work, then it can be much more difficult to get your child support obligation modified.

You begin the child support modification process by filing the forms with the court that are required under Washington law. You must arrange for a county sheriff or other process server to legally serve or deliver a copy of the forms to your child’s other parent and file proof of that service with the court. The other parent has a set number of days to respond to the petition for modification. Either party can ask for a court hearing after the other parent files a response to the petition. In many cases, parents are able to come to an agreement about modifying a child support obligation, but if they are unable to reach an agreement, the court will make the final decision.

The process of modifying child support can differ greatly from case to case, and some cases are much more complex than others. No matter what issues arise in your child support modification proceedings, however, we are here to help. The Washington child support lawyers at Pacific Northwest Family Law have handled countless child support cases throughout the years, as well as all other family law-related matters. Contact an experienced Washington child support attorney today so that we can explain your rights and responsibilities about child support obligations in the state of Washington.