California courts expect both parents to share in the expenses associated with raising their children, despite their marital status. All decisions made by the family court put the well-being of children at the top of the priority list. Child support orders require the higher-paying parent or the non-custodial parent to pay a specific support amount to the lower-paying parent or the parent with primary custody. Failure to stay up to date on payments can result in serious consequences, including penalties and interest, negative credit reports, liens against property, and even jail time.
But what if you’ve experienced a significant and ongoing change in your circumstances since the order was put into place, such as suffering a permanent disability? Instead of falling behind on child support payments, which then automatically generates enforcement measures, it’s a much better option to file a modification of the existing child support order before going into arrears.
How Do I File for a Modification of Child Support Orders for Disability?
A disability due to an injury or medical condition can limit a parent’s ability to meet existing financial obligations, including their court-ordered child support. In these circumstances, the paying parent’s best option is to file for a modification of their child support order. While California only allows modifications for significant, ongoing changes in circumstances, parental disability is one of the allowances, as well as job loss, changes in household size, and unavoidable financial hardships. Filing for a child support modification requires the following steps:
- Gathering evidence of your disability as well as proof of your income and expenses
- Requesting a review by the child support agency if you have an open case with them
- Petitioning the court directly for a modification in the jurisdiction of the existing order
- Paying the filing fee
- Paying a process server to serve a copy of the petition to the other parent
- Preparing for a court day
- Appearing in court, where both sides will present their arguments in cases where the receiving parent protests the modification
- After the judge reviews the evidence, he/she will make a judgment on the modification request
While you don’t have to have a lawyer for this process, choosing to hire a Los Angeles judgment modification attorney with experience in child support modification can more easily facilitate the process. It’s especially important to have legal representation if the other party is contentious, has their own family law attorney, or you suspect they are hiding assets or income.
Do I Have to Go to Court for a Modification of Child Support in California?
In some cases, both parties may agree on a modified amount of child support without the need for a courtroom. For instance, when parents are able to openly communicate, a newly disabled parent can approach the other parent to negotiate a change in child support amount based on the new circumstances. In this case, if both parents agree to a reduced amount, they can sign a stipulated agreement to modify the child support order and file it with the court and the child support agency. In this case, the court is likely to simply sign off on the mutually agreed-upon change.
It’s important to remember that even if both parents agree on the change, the paying parent must still pay the original amount of the order until a judge signs off on the modification, otherwise, enforcement measures may begin.
If you’ve suffered a disability or another significant change in circumstances, a Los Angeles child support attorney can help you understand your rights and obligations under California family law.