If You Want to Modify (Change) Your Child Support Court Order
Authored By: Northwest Justice Project
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Questions and answers about the laws that apply to changing a Washington State Child Support court order. #3814EN
- Important Information
- When can I start a court case in Washington to change my support?
- How do I know if I have an order from a Washington Court?
- My papers say "State of Washington Department of Social and Health Services Division of Child Support" or "State of Washington Office of Administrative Hearings" at the top.
- I live in Washington. Can I change a child support order from another state here?
- I have children from different relationships. Can I file one case for all of them?
- Can I get a court order lowering the back support I owe?
- Do I have to file a whole new case or can I just file a motion?
- A Motion for Adjustment sounds like less work than filing a new case. When wouldn't I want to just do this Motion?
- I want to change more than the amount of support. Can I file a Petition to Modify Child Support Order?
- Where should I file my modification case?
- I cannot afford a lawyer. I cannot get free legal services. Are there other options?
- How long will this take?
- Will there be a hearing or trial?
- What happens if I marry the other party to the child support order?
- Do-it-yourself packets for changing child support
- Get Legal Help
Read this to learn more about your options for changing a Washington State Child Support court order. Your case may be different from types of cases we discuss here. Talk with a lawyer about your case.
You can try to change a court's order of support by filing a Motion or a Petition. We explain here how to choose one.
If you decide after reading this to try to change your support order, use one of our do-it-yourself packets listed at the end. Or find out if the court where you are filing has its own packet. It may be easier to use.
When can I start a court case in Washington to change my support?
When both of these are true:
You have an order from a Washington Court
You, the other party, or the child lives in Washington
How do I know if I have an order from a Washington Court?
In Washington, a court order is a Child Support Order from a Superior Court. It will say this on the first page, towards the top.
My papers say "State of Washington Department of Social and Health Services Division of Child Support" or "State of Washington Office of Administrative Hearings" at the top.
You do not have a court order. You have an administrative order. An administrative order is a "Notice and Finding of Financial Responsibility", a "Notice and Finding of Parental Responsibility" or an "Initial Decision and Order". Here's what the caption might look like:
If you have one of these, do not use this packet. Use How to Ask DCS to Review Your Child Support Order for Modification instead.
I live in Washington. Can I change a child support order from another state here?
Maybe. Contact a lawyer or the Division of Child Support (DCS) to find out more.
I have children from different relationships. Can I file one case for all of them?
No. You must file a separate case for each.
Can I get a court order lowering the back support I owe?
Only in a few situations:
The current Support Order lets you change support before the date you filed your motion or case.
You have supported the children in your home for a long time even though the court ordered you to pay the other parent support.
Before trying to do this, talk to a lawyer. Read Do You Owe Child Support?
Do I have to file a whole new case or can I just file a motion?
It depends. You can file a Motion to Adjust Support if
- Your Support Order says you can file this motion and you have followed the instructions in paragraph 13 of your Support Order (if the second box there is checked) but could not reach agreement with the other parent
- If you do not understand paragraph 13 of your Support Order, talk to a lawyer.
OR it has been two years since the entry of your support order and one of these is true:
your income or the other parent's income has changed
the standards for calculating support have changed (a lawyer can tell you if this has happened)
A motion for adjustment generally is faster and simpler than filing a new case (a Petition to Modify. See below). A court can decide it with less advance notice. There is less paperwork.
A Motion for Adjustment sounds like less work than filing a new case. When wouldn't I want to just do this Motion?
It depends. Usually, a motion only lets you change the support amount. If you also want to add (or take away) a requirement that a parent pay daycare, educational costs, or other expenses to or from your Order, or if you want to change who can take the tax exemption for the children, you should file a Petition to Modify Child Support Order instead. See below.
I want to change more than the amount of support. Can I file a Petition to Modify Child Support Order?
(1) You meet the requirements for filing a motion for adjustment, above.
(2) It has been one year since the entry of your current support order, AND one of these is true:
- The order causes a parent or child real hardship.
- You want the other parent to pay support beyond age 18 so the child can finish high school. The child must still be in high school when you file.
(3) Your current Support Order was entered by default (without notice to you)
(4) You can show a substantial change in the circumstances of a parent or the children. It does not matter when your support order was entered.
This usually will be something you had no control over. Examples: injury or illness that keeps you from working; losing a job; going to jail; a change in the child's needs.
This change cannot be:
something a parent or the court knew when you got the current support order
a choice you made, such as quitting your job, or deciding to go to school or take a lower paying job
if you are the parent getting support, because you got a raise
*If you are filing for support modification because of a change in circumstances, you must prove that change happened.
(5) new! The parent paying support is going to jail or prison for at least six months. It does not matter when your support order was entered.
Where should I file my modification case?
In one of these counties:
Where your current Support Order was entered
Where the child lives
Where the person who has the child lives
I cannot afford a lawyer. I cannot get free legal services. Are there other options?
Some counties offer a "Self-Help" class. You can learn how to file your own support modification or adjustment. It may cost more than this packet, but help more with local forms and procedures. If available, you should take a class. To find out if your county offers any, ask the clerk or facilitator. (See below.)
Some counties have family law facilitators. They can help you file in court. They cannot give legal advice. They often have do-it-yourself packets for your county.
Ask the Division of Child Support (DCS) for help. Read How to Ask DCS to Review Your Child Support Order for Modification.
How long will this take?
Generally, a motion to adjust is quicker than a petition. It can take a month or less.
How long a Petition to Modify Child Support Order will take will depend in part on the county you are filing in, if the other parent lives in Washington, and how you have your court papers served on them. The other parent will have anywhere from 20 to 90 days after being served to respond to your petition.
If the other parent does not respond in time, you can ask the court to enter final orders by default. This will save you time, if you do it right.
If the other parent responds, how long it takes to finalize the case will vary. It may take at least two to three months to finalize.
Will there be a hearing or trial?
No. The court decides support modification cases without a hearing. The court just reads everything you and the other parent filed. If you need witnesses to testify to prove your cases, you must file a motion asking to allow it at trial.
You must file this motion within 10 days after getting the notice of hearing. Get help from a lawyer.
What happens if I marry the other party to the child support order?
All parts of the order about support automatically end if you later (re-)marry the other parent.
Do-it-yourself packets for changing child support
File a Petition to Modify Your Child Support Court Order – or use our do-it-yourself interview program, Washington Forms Online, to complete the Child Support Worksheets and Financial Declaration info.
Get Legal Help
Visit Northwest Justice Project to find out how to get legal help.