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How to Change a Child Support Order

Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid LSC Funded
Contents

Who Makes Child Support Orders?

Orders for child support are established using either an administrative process or a court process. Either process requires that a judge sign an order requiring someone to pay support.  The Child Support Recovery Unit (CSRU) is an office of the Department of Human Services.  Only CSRU can start the administrative process.  After CSRU takes all the steps required by Iowa law, including giving notice to both parents, they present an order to the judge for approval.  Either parent can ask for a hearing. If a hearing is not requested, a hearing will not be held.   The court process usually occurs in a divorce or a custody case.  In those cases, the judge will decide the amount of support along with the other issues in these cases (e.g. custody).  CSRU is usually not involved in establishing these orders.

How is the Amount of Child Support Decided?

The incomes of both parents determine the amount of child support.   In most cases, CSRU and the judges must use the Child Support Guidelines which include a chart called the Iowa Schedule of Basic Support Obligations.  The Schedule uses the combined net monthly income of the parents and the number of children.  A total amount of support is found on the Schedule and each parent will “pay” a share of this total amount.  The share is equal to the parent’s percentage of their combined incomes.   The noncustodial parent will be ordered to pay his or her share to the custodial parent.  You can use the child support estimator found on the Iowa Child Support website to estimate your support obligation. https://secureapp.dhs.state.ia.us/estimator/

What happens if things like income or custody change?

Sometimes, after the judge sets the amount of child support, circumstances or income changes and the amount of the child support is no longer correct. Maybe the noncustodial parent gets a much better job and is making a lot more money. Maybe the noncustodial parent loses his or her job and is not making any money or can only find a new job that pays a lot less money. Sometimes one of the parents becomes disabled and is no longer able to work at all. Sometimes the parents reconcile and start living together again.  Sometimes the child goes to live with the parent ordered to pay support.

There are three procedures CSRU can use to change the amount of child support someone is ordered to pay. These are:

    Review and Adjustment of Child Support

    Administrative Modification

    Cost-of-Living Alteration

Review and Adjustment. CSRU will do a Review and Adjustment when there has been a change that would cause the amount of child support to go up or down by more than 20%.  An example of such a change would be the noncustodial parent becoming disabled or starts earning more/less than when the order was originally entered.  The change must have lasted for at least 3 months and will continue for another 3 months. CSRU will also do a Review and Adjustment if the child has no health insurance and the noncustodial parent becomes able to get health insurance for the child, such as through an employer. CSRU will only do a Review and Adjustment if the current order ends more than 12 months from the date the request for review is received and if it has been at least two years since the last time the amount of child support was changed.  Either parent can request the Review. 

Administrative Modification. Another thing CSRU can do to change the amount of a child support payment is called an Administrative Modification. This can be done if a parent's net income (after taxes) has changed by 50% or more. Also, the current order must end more than 12 months from the date CSRU receives the request to change the amount of support.  There are many other reasons for doing an Administrative Modification, though most of them don't come up as often. CSRU will do an administrative modification when a child needs to be added to the order, when a noncustodial parent is no longer a minor, when the original order did not set a child support amount or set it at zero, and when there is a mistake in the order that needs to be corrected.

Cost-of-Living Alteration.  This is a special type of administrative modification.  Parents must agree to this type of change in writing.  Instead of determining the support obligation by using the Guidelines, CSRU uses the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to calculate the support amount.

How is the Support Order Modified?

In either a Review and Adjustment or an Administrative Modification, the parents receive notice of the proposed action by CSRU and can contest the decision.  The requestor accepts service of the notice packet at the time the request to modify is signed.  The non-requestor can waive personal service by signing a waiver.  Next, the CSRU evaluates the financial information provided by the parents and other sources and issues a notice of decision telling the parties whether a change is appropriate and if so, the new amount of support. 

The notice explains how the parties can contest the decision:  In some selected cases, the review begins with CSRU gathering income and deduction information from automated sources, with the initial contact with the parties’ being the Notice of Decision.  In those special cases, the parties have 30 days to contest and send financial information. 

In the event of a challenge to a review and adjustment decision, a second review is done with a new notice of decision. 

In the administrative modification process, the parties can ask for a conference or a court hearing. 

If an adjustment or modification is appropriate, one of three things happens:

  1. Both parties may consent to the change.  If so, CSRU prepares an administrative order and presents it to a judge for approval. 
  2. The parties may not respond.  If not, CSRU prepares and presents the order to a judge for approval.
  3. If at least one of the parties contests the proposed change, different things happen depending on the type of action being contested:  To contest the support amount resulting from a cost-of-living alteration, a party must request a full review and adjustment.  To contest a finding in either the review and adjustment or administrative modification process, a party may request a court hearing. 

If the judge in any of these situations determines that an adjustment or modification is appropriate, an order is prepared and filed.

What happens if the parties agree there has been a change where some or all of the children live?

Sometimes circumstances change after a support order is established.  For example, the parents reconcile and start living together again or the children go to live with the person ordered to pay support or with a caretaker who does not want CSRU services.  To qualify for suspension when not all of the children change their living arrangements, the original order must state the amount of support as the number of children entitled to support changes.

When things like this happen, a parent can request that the support order be suspended and eventually terminated or reinstated.  This is done through the Child Support Recovery Unit.   Both parents need to sign the request.

How Does Suspension of Support Work When Both Parents Agree?

Certain requirements must be met:

  • The request to suspend is signed by both parents showing they agree.
  • Support can be reinstated within six months if conditions change, upon request to the court by either parent or by CSRU.  If the order isn’t eligible for reinstatement, CSRU sends a notice denying the request.     If the conditions remain the same for six months, the order is terminated. 
  • If the request for suspension applies to at least one, but not all of the children affected by the order, the order must contain a “step-change” (meaning the amount of support changes when the number of children entitled to support changes).  If the order does not contain “step-change” language, an attorney must be contacted to end the current support. 

If just one of the parties wants to stop the order, it may be possible to do so.  Certain requirements must be met.  These include:

  • The child is currently living with the person ordered to pay support and has been living with the person for more than 60 consecutive days.
  • There is no custody order in place.
  • The child is not receiving public assistance (FIP or Medicaid) unless the person ordered to pay support is part of the same household as the child.
  • It is reasonable to expect that the basis for suspension will continue for not less than six months.
  • The person ordered to pay support signs a notarized affidavit and it is submitted to CSRU.
  • No prior suspension has been requested during the previous two years.

After the application has been submitted, CSRU makes a decision about whether all these requirements have been met.  If not, the request is denied and the person ordered to pay support is notified in writing why.  This decision cannot be appealed.

  • If the requirements are met, CSRU notifies the person receiving the support.  Notification can be through certified mail or by personal service.
  •  The person receiving the support then has 20 days to object in writing by telling CSRU in a notarized statement that one or more of the requirements have not been met.  If the person receiving the support does object, the request to suspend child support will be denied and both parties are notified in writing.  This notice will also inform both parties that they can still file something with the Court on their own or through their own attorney.
  • If the person receiving support does not object, CSRU prepares an order for the Judge to sign temporarily suspending ongoing or accruing support.  During the six months after the temporary suspension is signed, either party, or CSRU, can ask for reinstatement of the child support.  The application to reinstate is mailed to the other person who then has 10 days to object.  If an objection is filed, a hearing is scheduled.
  • If no application to reinstate is filed, the temporary suspension automatically becomes permanent and the child support order is terminated.

What Happens When the Payor Becomes Disabled?

This is a change in income and the payor is entitled to a reduction in child support. If you start getting Supplemental Security Income (SSI), CSRU will usually recommend that your child support payments be reduced to zero. If you start getting money from Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Social Security retirement, the order will be changed based on this new income. However, if you are getting SSDI or retirement then your child may be entitled to a check of his or her own. Your child's check is added to your income but it also reduces the amount you have to pay.  This is because the money your child receives is treated as if it were money you paid. So, the amount of child support you must pay is reduced by the amount of money your child gets from Social Security. Your child's check may even reduce your payment to zero. This does not happen automatically, however. You must tell the court or CSRU that your child is getting a check. The court or CSRU will then change the order to give you credit for your child's check.

Are there Other Ways to End a Support Obligation?

You can use  courts forms  available at: https://www.iowacourts.gov/for-the-public/court-forms/ to increase, decrease or stop child support.  They cannot be used to change custody or visitation orders.  There are many steps to the court process and there is no guarantee the request to change the order will be granted.  There will probably be a hearing, especially if the parents do not agree to the change.  Both parents must fill out a Financial Affidavit so the judge can determine the right amount of support using the Child Support Guidelines.

I'm Not Getting Visitation with My Child. Can I Ask the Court to Let Me Stop Paying Child Support?

No. Under the law, child support and visitation are two completely different things. A non-custodial parent must pay child support even if the custodial parent is not allowing visitation with the child. Also, custodial parent may not refuse visitation just because the noncustodial parent is not paying child support. This does not mean it's okay to refuse visitation, or to not pay child support. If there is a court order saying that a parent must allow visitation or pay child support, then that parent must do what the order says. If that parent refuses, the other parent (or CSRU) can ask the court to find that parent in contempt of court. There will be a hearing. If the judge decides that the parent really did refuse to obey the court order, the judge can punish the parent. The judge can punish the parent in various ways, including putting him or her in jail. If jail is a possibility, the parent should be entitled to have an attorney appointed if the parent cannot afford one.

How Can I Contact CSRU?

There are 21 CSRU offices in Iowa. Each office serves several counties. To find the office that serves your county, call their main customer service number: 1-888-229-9223 or check online at https://secureapp.dhs.state.ia.us/customerweb/offices.

 

Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans. 

To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:

  • Call 800-532-1275. 
  • Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161.
  • Apply online at iowalegalaid.org

 

If Iowa Legal Aid cannot help, look for an attorney on “Find A Lawyer” on the Iowa State Bar Association website iowabar.org.   A private attorney there can talk with you for a fee of $25 for 30 minutes of legal advice.

 

*As you read this information, remember this article is not a substitute for legal advice. 

Last Review and Update: Oct 18, 2019
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