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How to Increase Child Support

UPDATED: April 13, 2012

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A custodial parent can have a number of reasons to increase child support and the process by which it may be increased varies by state. All states have child support guidelines that set forth a formula based on the needs of the child, the number of children for whom child support is sought, other dependents, and the income and ability of the parents to pay, in order to determine the appropriate maount of child support. States must use these guidelines unless it can be demonstrated that the amount of the award is unjust or inappropriate under the circumstances.

The child support award is the amount the noncustodial parent must pay unless the custodial parent seeks to have that amount increased. A child support order may be modified through a court hearing. In addition, most states have an administrative procedure that provides a more expedited and informal way to have a child support award modified. This procedure works best if the parents agree on the increase in child support. However, informal agreements between the custodial and noncustodial parent will not change the court-ordered child support amount. A modified child support award must be issued by a court.

Increasing Child Support

The process by which a child support order may be increased depends on state law, so it is important to check the law in order to follow the appropriate procedure and determine eligibility for a modification. For example, in Florida, a modification petition cannot be filed unless the state guidelines show the amount would change by at least 15% or $50 per month, whichever is greater.

Some states have a two-pronged test for determining whether child support should be increased. This means the parent requesting the change must show two things to be true before the court will consider increasing child support. The custodial parent requesting an increase must show both that the person paying support has an increased income, and the child has increased needs. For example, if the noncustodial parent begins a new job at a higher rate of pay, and the child can also be shown to have increased needs based on getting older and having increasingly expensive activities, the circumstances may call for increasing child support levels.

In a minority of states, an increase may be based on either the noncustodial parent's ability to pay more, or evidence that the custodial parent has suffered a decrease in earnings and therefore has increased need for support. Therefore, the noncustodial parent’s financial ability to pay more would be sufficient to increase child support. The custodial parent will need to provide proof of the noncustodial parent’s increased income. A mere allegation that the noncustodial parent appears to be earning more, e.g., because he purchased a home or a new car, is not enough.

Many states have a way for custodial or non-custodial parents to request income information from the other parent prior to filing a request for increased child support.  If an informal request or a request made through court procedures does not provide sufficient information or the other parent refuses to provide any information, it might be best to file the modification. After the modification petition is filed, the discovery process can be used to force the other parent to provide information that will show income. Discovery, which is a way to ask for specific documents and information, is required by law, but discovery requests must be prepared properly, which usually requires assistance from a child support lawyer.

It would also be enough for the custodial parent to show that while the non-custodial parent hasn't experienced an increase in income, the custodial parent has lost a job or suffered some other type of income decrease. As part of any proceeding to increase child support, the parties will need to provide information related to their financial situation, such as copies of tax returns, W-2 forms, and paystubs. The parties will also be required to complete a financial statement to gather information necessary to compute the new child support obligation according to the guidelines.

Obstacles to Increasing Child Support

It may be more difficult to determine the noncustodial parent’s finances when he is self-employed or attempts to hide assets. If the noncustodial parent is uncooperative, there are additional discovery methods that may be employed to determine his financial situation. The noncustodial parent may be ordered to attend a deposition where he will be asked a series of questions regarding his finances, under oath, and subject to perjury. In addition, subpoenas may be issued for bank statements and other financial documents that may contain information that demonstrate the noncustodial parent’s ability to pay increased child support payments.

When seeking to increase child support, the custodial parent should be aware that, in many states, once the modification process is started, it will be pursued to completion even if it means the noncustodial parent will pay less. Therefore, it is advisable to obtain legal assistance in reviewing the state guidelines and potential for increase, or risk of a decrease, in child support before filing the modification petition.

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