Child Support – What Constitutes a Material Changed Circumstance?

Child support orders can be modified. When entering a child support order as part of a divorce or paternity action, courts fully expect that the order will need to be modified in the future. As the circumstances of the parents and/or the child changes, what was originally considered to be an appropriate child support order may no longer be so considered. The court may review the original order in light of the parties’ current situation and modify the order as appropriate.

Before this can happen, however, one of the parties must file an appropriate motion with the court and ask the court to modify the order based on a change of circumstance. This motion will be granted and an appropriate order modifying the child support amount will be entered only if the court finds such a change of circumstance exists.

What Constitutes a Material Change in Child Support?

New Jersey law speaks of “changed circumstances” justifying a modification of an existing child support order. Not all developments or changes in the situation of the parents are considered sufficient to justify a modification of an existing order. “Changed circumstances” that do warrant a modification include those changes that are:

  • Permanent: The change must be such that it is likely to affect one or both parties for the foreseeable future. In other words, at the time the court hears the motion to modify child support there must be evidence that the change in circumstance is not likely to be reversed or corrected. For example, a demotion at work or an increase in the cost of living is often considered to be “permanent” in nature because it is uncertain whether these changes will be reversed or corrected in the future. Conversely, being off of work for a month due to a work-related injury is not likely to be considered a “permanent” change because the injury is likely to heal and it is likely that the individual will return to work.
  • Substantial: In addition, the change in circumstance must be of a “substantial” nature. This means that the difference in the financial situation of the parents – and, hence, the anticipated difference in the child support amount – is more than of a trivial amount. A court will not likely entertain a motion to modify where the modification will only result in a $10 or $20 increase in child support. But a modification would be appropriate where, for example, one parent had been making $100,000 per year but then was demoted or permanently limited to a $50,000 per year job.

  • Unforeseeable: Finally, the change in circumstance must be a change that the parties could not reasonably anticipate at the time the original order was entered. If a change was foreseeable and contemplated at that time, a modification may not be possible when that change does in fact occur. For example, suppose that a parent was making $50,000 and, at the time the original child support order was entered, he or she had been promised a raise to $55,000 in six months. If the child support order is calculated based on the $50,000 income figure (without objection) and the raise was disclosed, then the parent receiving child support may not be able to ask the court to modify the child support when the raise occurs.

Modifying child support is not as simple of a process as simply telling a court that a change has occurred: you must be able to show through evidence and testimony that the change in circumstance is of a permanent, substantial, and unforeseeable nature. New Jersey child support attorney Peter J. Bronzino of the Bronzino Law Firm is able to assist you in collecting and presenting the evidence and testimony necessary support a motion to modify child support. Contact his office today by calling (732) 812-3102 and requesting your free initial consultation today.