Modification of Child Support Orders FAQ

Child support orders and payments for health insurance in Iowa are modified when significant changes occur that alter the financial situation of the parents to provide support for their children.

For instance, every four years, Iowa reviews the child support guidelines and may adjust the amount of support if there is at least a 20-percent change in the consumer price index (parents must both agree in writing to this adjustment) or when health insurance was not previously ordered and is now available at a reasonable cost to the parent ordered to pay support. A support order is in effect for minor children under age eighteen or between eighteen and nineteen who has not yet graduated from high school (but is expected to graduate before attaining age 19).

(IA 252H)

Review and Adjustment of Support Orders

The Iowa Child Support Recovery Unit, which is charged with ensuring support orders are enforced, will review an order for support, for possible modification when:

  • It has been at least two years since the child support order was issued;
  • There are at least 12 months remaining on the support obligation;
  • The Recovery Unit is providing enforcement services, or Iowa is the only state with jurisdiction to modify the order;
  • The request is for a review of the current support obligation or the addition of insurance; or
  • The review is requested by a legal parent who receives or pays child support or by a caretaker or custodian entitled to receive support payments for the children or an automated selects when a payee receives Family Investment Program benefits. (Handbook, Page 15)

Administration Modification of Orders occur when:

  • One of the parties to the order has a change of income of 50 percent or more and the current obligation is less than two years old;
  • Additional children born to the same parents should be added to the same order;
  • An error is present in the order;
  • A payor did not comply with a required education course;
  • The payor was a minor at the time of the order and is no longer a minor.

When the Child Support Recovery Unit is in the process of reviewing orders, parents are notified by the state of an intent to review or make a modification of the support order and are asked to supply updated financial information. The Child Support Recovery Unit reviews the information, reaches a decision and informs the parents, who then can either accept the decision or appeal for a review. If necessary, the next step is to take an appeal through a court process for a determination on the modification.

Circumstances That Could Require a Change in Support

Once a case reaches the court system, there is no set standard for determining when a change in support is appropriate. Judges follow laws but are individuals and have varying opinions on what they consider to be “changed circumstances” or “significant changes.” For example, if the paying parent has had a large increase in income, the court may order an increase in that parent's child support obligation. Or, if the child's financial needs increase, such as if the child becomes ill or disabled, the amount of the support order can be increased to account for higher medical or educational expenditures.. Some issues require judgments because they are not quantifiable by statute alone.

Child support can also be changed if parties can show why this would be fair. For example, support payments may be reduced if the parent with residential responsibility inherits money, gets a raise, or otherwise has an increased ability to support the children. Or, if the paying parent loses his or her job, the court can be asked to reduce support during the period of unemployment.

Are verbal changes OK?

A mistake many parents make is to reach informal oral agreements modifying child support. This can lead to future problems. For example, the following scenario is very common:

Peter paid his former wife Alice $400 a month to support their son. When Peter was laid off, he called Alice and said, "I just got laid off. I can't afford to pay $400 right now." Alice responded, "Okay. Pay $100 for now."

Ten months later, Peter was rehired and raised his support payments back to $400. During his layoff, Peter had made 10 payments of $100. Alice called and told Peter she expected him to pay the $3000 he had not paid during the layoff. Peter replied that he did not owe the money because they had agreed to the child support reduction during his layoff. Alice disagreed. She claimed that she had not given up the right to $400 a month but had merely permitted Peter to defer full payment until he was rehired.

When Peter refused to pay, Alice took him to court. The judge ruled that the evidence did not support Peter's claim that he was excused from $300 per month of his support during his layoff. He was ordered to pay the $3000 to Alice at the rate of $100 a month, in addition to the usual payments of monthly support.

The problem with oral agreements is that they are often vaguely worded and the memories or understanding of the parties may often differ. Any agreement you make to modify child support should be put in writing so that there are no misunderstandings later on. It is also a good idea to have a judge sign a court order based on the agreement.

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