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Can you change a child support order?

On Behalf of | Jun 12, 2023 | Family Law

Child support can be a contentious issue, whether the parents were ever married or not. And once the parents have gone through all the work of establishing how much one parent must pay, they are reluctant to make any changes.

Of course, a lot can happen after a court issues a child support order. Sometimes, due to circumstances out of the parents’ control, even the best child support orders can become unworkable. When that happens, either parent can request a modification.

Child support basics

Before we explore the topic of child support modification, we should first talk about the idea behind child support.

Under Virginia law, the requirement of child support doesn’t stem from the relationship between the adults. Rather, it stems from the parent’s responsibility to the child. All parents have a duty to provide for the care and upbringing of their children. Parents who live with their children are required to provide for their shelter, clothing, food, health care and other needs while they are living with them. Parents who do not live with their children also have a legal responsibility to contribute to paying for these needs. They do this through paying child support.

In the past, some parents may have directly paid child support to their exes, but today child support goes through the Virginia Department of Child Support Enforcement, which is a division of the Department of Social Services. The DCSE collects payments and distributes checks to the custodial parents who receive support on behalf of their children.


Whether child support comes out of a divorce or not, the state sets child support obligations based on a complicated formula that takes into account the child’s needs and the parent’s ability to pay.

This is where the need for modification can come in. Either parent can request a modification by making a formal motion to the court that issued the child support order.

To give an example, imagine that a child support order takes into account the child’s health care costs, but at some point, the cost of the child’s insurance goes up. In such a case, the custodial parent might need to request an increase.

The paying parent can also request a modification. For instance, if the child support order was partly based on one parent’s income, and that parent later loses their job, it can become impossible for them to keep up with their payments.

In such a case, it’s important for the paying parent to request a modification as soon as possible. Parents who fall behind on their child support can face many terrible consequences as their unpaid balance gathers interest. The state has many tools at its disposal for enforcing child support orders, including wage garnishment and withholding professional licenses.