When should you file a petition for modification of child support?
A “final” child support order is not necessarily final. Various events such as job loss, promotion, birth of another child, or a move out of state can all impact the amount you owe for child support. When, then, is it worth it to seek a modification of child support?
The bottom line is the answer is complicated.
If you have lost your job, you should return to court to modify your child support BEFORE you get behind. Do not wait.
If you have become incarcerated for a significant period of time for reasons unrelated to child support, you should return to court to modify your support order as soon as possible. Because different jurisdictions have different rules related to incarceration and child support, it's important to consult an attorney as soon as you are able. Do not assume that the Court will understand that you were unable to earn income while incarcerated!
If the child has moved out of state, you should seek legal advice from a lawyer before filing any action with the court. The child support may be higher or lower depending on how the support is calculated. Note that a move from the District of Columbia to the state of Virginia could reduce the amount owed for child support by three years' worth of payments.
If the child's other parent is now making more money, the picture becomes more complicated. A significant raise could impact the amount of child support, but a minor amount would only have a small effect. In order to access information (such as tax returns and W2's) about the exact amount of your ex's income, you will have to file for a modification. Unfortunately you are not entitled to these documents before filing, which can make deciding whether to file even more difficult (if the other parent merely tells you, that may or may not be reliable).
If you are now supporting another child, you may be entitled to a recalculation of the amount owed.
In short, seeking the advice of an attorney can clarify whether it's actually worth it in your case to spend the time, money, and energy to modify the child support amount. The answer may surprise you.
Information regarding the laws controlling modification of child support can be found by consulting the modification statutes for your jurisdiction.
For Virginia, that's Virginia Code Section 20-108.
For the District of Columbia, consult Section 16.1-916.01.
For Maryland, that's Family Law Section 12-104.