Modifying Support Orders

Child Support and the Judiciary Bench Card

Publication Date: May 15, 2012

Judicial officials are faced with numerous petitions requesting a modification or adjustment of the current child support order filed on behalf of either the custodial or noncustodial parent. Research of state child support programs shows that earnings of noncustodial parents are volatile and current child support orders tend to be unresponsive to significant changes in earnings. An effective modification process can help assure that orders remain appropriate and prevent the accumulation of inappropriate child support debt.

  • Federal regulation requires that at least once every three years States must notify parties in IV-D cases of their right to request a review.
  • States much have procedures allowing a party to request a review outside the three-year cycle, if the requesting party demonstrates a substantial change in circumstances (e.g., change in income).
  • The review is to be an objective evaluation of information necessary for application of the State’s guidelines. The State may use a “reasonable quantitative standard,” or threshold, as a basis for determining whether the variance between the current order amount and the amount resulting from the application of the guidelines, based on current information, is adequate grounds for petitioning for the adjustment of the order.
  • Federal law and regulation allow States to apply a cost of living adjustment (COLA), as determined by the State, or use automated methods including income information from automated sources to identify orders eligible for review, conduct the review and apply the appropriate adjustment.
  • Judicial officials should also be mindful that pursuant to the Bradley Amendment (named after Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey) state child support orders may not be retroactively modified, except back to the date of service on the other party. A child support payment becomes a judgment by operation of law when it becomes due and unpaid, and is entitled to full faith and credit to be enforced as any other judgment of the state (Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1986, Pub. L. No.99-509, 100 Stat. 1874 (1986) (codified as amended at 42 U.S.C. Sec. 666 (a) (9) (1986)). See Attached the amended full faith and credit statute (U.S. Code Title 28, Part V, Chapter 115, Sec. 1738B) and The Story Behind the Numbers: Impact of Modification Thresholds on Review and Adjustment of Child Support Orders.

To review a state’s judicial and/or administrative procedures regarding modification and review/adjustment of a current order, go to the Intergovernmental Reference Guide Visit disclaimer page .  State policies and procedures regarding modification and review/adjustment that may also be provided on a state child support agency’s website. For current information about the child support program, policy matters, state and federal office addresses, links to state websites, frequently asked questions, and links to related agencies, click on OCSE. An additional resource that may be helpful to judicial officials is the National Center for State Courts Visit disclaimer page website, which provides judicial branch links to each state.