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Can I modify my child support payments if I lose my job?

Circumstances often change that can affect your ability to continue making child support payments in the amount ordered by the court. Losing your job is one of the more common reasons that may cause a parent to investigate his or her ability to modify the child support order. While the short answer is "yes," you can ask to modify your child support payments after losing your job, there are some important considerations of which you should be aware.

First, you and your spouse can always agree to modify child support payments on your own. However, unless there is some written agreement that is signed by a judge (typically referred to as a "Stipulation"), the original child support will continue to be binding. Without a properly executed Stipulation (signed by a judge), you could find yourself in a situation where your spouse later has a change of heart about the payment modification and pursues legal remedies to enforce the original order against you. You could be found in arrears for prior payments and be ordered to continue making future payments in the original amount.

If you and your spouse are unable to reach an agreement on your own, you can file a formal request with the court (usually called a "Request for Order" in California) asking for a modification of your order. While a reduction in support might appear to you as a "slam dunk" request (i.e., guaranteed to succeed), there are other factors in this analysis that will impact the ultimate determination. For example, if at the point of time when you request the reduction in support it turns out you are spending less time with your children, the court may find that after consideration of the reduction of your time with the children (normally a factor that tends to increase child support) outweighs the reduction in your income, thus possibly leading to a denial of your request to reduce support.  Likewise, the other parent may have experienced changes that trigger an increase in your child support payments, or your child may have medical issues that necessitate an increased payment.

Before you go to court asking for a modification of your child support order, you should spend some time considering the factors that go into recalculating the estimated amount of your payment. There are a number of resources available to help you in this calculation, including: a family court facilitator, online calculators, and advice from an experienced family law attorney. While an attorney may cost more money upfront, they can help prevent you from making a mistake that may actually cause your child support payment to increase. 

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