How to Change a Child Support Order
Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid
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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 use the administrative process. After CSRU takes all the steps required by Iowa law, 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. The judge will decide the amount 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 non-custodial parent will be ordered to pay his or share to the custodial parent.
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 non-custodial parent gets a much better job and is making a lot more money. Maybe the non-custodial 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 paying. These are:
- Review and Adjustment of Child Support
- Administrative Modification
- Suspension of Child Support
Review and Adjust. CSRU will do a Review and Adjust when there has been a change that would cause the amount of child support to go up or down by more than 20%. This change must be one that has lasted for three months and will probably last at least three more. An example of such a change would be the non-custodial parent becoming disabled or starts earning more/less than when the order was originally entered. CSRU will also do a Review and Adjust if the child has no health insurance and the non-custodial parent becomes able to get health insurance for the child, such as through an employer. CSRU will only do a Review and Adjust if it has been at least two years since the last time the amount of child support was changed.
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 any time, no matter how long it has been since the last time the order was changed. CSRU will do an Administrative Modification when either parent's income goes up or down by 50% or more. 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 non-custodial 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.
Suspension of Support. 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.
When things like this happen, a parent can request that the support order be suspended and eventually terminated. This is done through the Child Support Recovery Unit. Often both parents want to suspend the support order but sometimes one of the parents isn’t willing 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.
- The reason for the suspension must be expected to continue for at least 6 months.
- 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)
- No prior request for suspension has been filed with the CSRU during the 2 year period preceding the request.
If the conditions are met, CSRU will approve the request. They will then prepare an Order for the judge to sign suspending the support. This is a temporary order which becomes effective the date it is filed. After 6 months, the temporary order becomes final automatically.
How Does Suspension of Support Work When the Parent Paying (Payor) Requests it?
The payor can request the suspension only if:
- The child is currently living with the payor and has been for at least 60 consecutive days.
- If the reason to suspend does not apply to all of the children, the order must include a “step-change”.
- There is no custody order between the parents
- It is reasonable to expect that the change will last for 6 months or more
- The child is not receiving public assistance unless the payor is a member of the same household as the child.
- The payor has signed a notarized affidavit stating the above criteria is met.
- No prior request for suspension has been submitted during the previous two year period.
If the criteria are met, CSRU will serve a notice on the person who is receiving the support (payee). This notice is called a Notice of Intent to Payee to Suspend a Child Support obligation. It must tell the payee they have 20 days to submit a signed and notarized objection to the suspension. If the payee does file an objection, the request to suspend will be denied. Also, if the payee cannot be served, the request to suspend will be denied.
If the payee is served and does not object, CSRU will approve the request and prepare an order the same way it does when both parents agree
What is Reinstatement of Support?
When requests for suspension are approved, temporary orders are signed. The temporary orders do not become final for six months. During this six month waiting period either person involved or CSRU can request Reinstatement of the order. This is done by submitting a written request to CSRU. Either parent, or CSRU, can object to the Reinstatement by filing written objections with the clerk of court. A hearing will then be scheduled.
If the support order is reinstated, the support that was not collected during the waiting period must be paid.
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 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.
What if CSRU Can’t Help Me Change or Suspend My Support Order
If CSRU can't help you change the amount of child support, you can always ask the court yourself. You will file a document called Petition to Modify Child Support. This document must be filed with the court and served on the other party as if it were a brand-new case. You must pay a filing fee, and the other parent must be served with a copy of your petition by the sheriff or a private process server. This way is much more difficult, and can take a long time. It may also require the help of a lawyer-especially if the support order is part of a custody or divorce decree.
What if I Cannot Find an Attorney to Help Me File a Petition to Modify?
Either parent can file a petition to modify on their own. The Iowa Supreme court provides the forms They are available at http://www.iowacourts.gov/For_the_Public/Representing_Yourself_in_Court/DivorceFamily_Law/Forms/ These forms can only be used 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. For that matter, a custodial parent may not refuse visitation just because the non-custodial parent is not paying child support. This does not mean it's OK 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 counsel appointed if the parent cannot afford an attorney.
How Can I Contact CSRU?
There are 19 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. Iowa Legal Aid publishes a booklet called Paternity and Child Support Law in Iowa. This booklet contains the addresses of all 19 offices. A printed copy is available from Iowa Legal Aid for free to low-income people.
Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans.
- To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:
- Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161 or
- apply online at iowalegalaid.org