How to Modify Spousal and Child Support after Income Loss

Losing your job or small business is devastating, especially if you're also paying child support or alimony. While it is stressful, you shouldn't be down on yourself, especially during a recession or other economic hardship out of your control.

That said, there are ways to make support adjustments now (and later) so you can continue to make payments, but at a level that is more appropriate given the state of your current income. In general, keep in mind that any adjustments made to spousal and child support payments will need to go through court to become enforceable.

Tips for discussing support modifications

Be upfront and honest

The best course of action is to speak directly with your ex and explain the situation, whether you're expecting a small or drastic change in income. Make honesty your policy and make it clear to your ex that you want to maintain communication during these uncertain times, and that you plan to readjust payments when business picks up again.

Give notice

Remember that your ex is only receiving this money in the first place because they need this support; they will probably need to make adjustments to their own expenditures as a result. The more time you can give to help them plan for this adjustment, the better support negotiations will go for both of you now – and down the road when your finances pick up again.

Show effort

This probably goes without saying, but it's also a good idea to demonstrate that you're making adjustments in your own daily life to demonstrate to your ex that you're also making sacrifices.

Be mindful of your tone and delivery

Being mindful of your tone is more important than ever right now. Anything that could be perceived as a demand or criticism will only serve to shut your ex down. If your ex can't hear what you're saying because they're so focused on how you're saying it, the conversation will go nowhere.

If you're worried that you're not coming across the right way as you discuss child or spousal support, address it: "I'm concerned that I wasn't very articulate just now. I really didn't mean to come across that way. I just want to make sure you know that I want to work this out together in a way that makes sense for both of us, given this extreme situation."

Ideal outcome: An agreement on your own (in writing)

With court delays (and the costs), coming to an agreement out of court with your ex is obviously ideal, but understandably, not always an option. If you are able to do this, a stipulation can be prepared and filed so that no court appearance is necessary. Once you and your ex agree to the change in support, remember that the agreement must be in writing and prepared as the court requires.

If you need or want help, Hello Divorce has lawyers and legal document assistants who are ready to help. (Request a quote here.)

Can't agree? File a petition for modification with the court

If you're unable to come to an agreement outside of court, you can still file to change the amount of support you pay. In general, most states allow such modifications when there is a substantial change in circumstances. This typically refers to a significant loss of income.

Child support modification grounds may include:

  • Custody
  • Relative wealth or assets of the parties
  • Income of a parent of 30% or more
  • The employment potential and ability of a parent to earn
  • Medical needs of the child
  • Legal responsibilities of either parent for the support of others

Other considerations

For either asking to modify child support or alimony, you may also be required to prove to the court that you cannot find a position that paid you a similar amount to the job you lost. You may need to show that you have made efforts to find a job, and have been collecting unemployment or government assistance in the meantime. It might be useful for you to keep track of your job search efforts, like the places you applied to and on what date, how much the expected wage was, and so on.

Once again, in the case of modifying child support, you must demonstrate the change in circumstances is not temporary. For example, if you lost your job and it doesn't seem like you will find another similarly paying position for another year, that may qualify as a non-temporary change in circumstances entitling you to some relief.

Need help modifying support or have questions? Schedule a free 15-minute call with our team of account coordinators.

Founder, CEO & Certified Family Law Specialist
Mediation, Divorce Strategy, Divorce Insights, Legal Insights
After over a decade of experience as a Certified Family Law Specialist, Mediator and law firm owner, Erin was fed up with the inefficient and adversarial “divorce corp” industry and set out to transform how consumers navigate divorce - starting with the legal process. By automating the court bureaucracy and integrating expert support along the way, Hello Divorce levels the playing field between spouses so that they can sort things out fairly and avoid missteps. Her access to justice work has been recognized by the legal industry and beyond, with awards and recognition from the likes of Women Founders Network, TechCrunch, Vice, Forbes, American Bar Association and the Pro Bono Leadership award from Congresswoman Barbara Lee. Erin lives in California with her husband and two children, and is famously terrible at board games.