In general, property and debt orders in a Decree of Dissolution may not be modified after the case is finalized. Child support and maintenance may be modified until the order expires. Parenting Plans may only be modified by agreement, or after a special hearing to show that you have met the minimum threshold for a minor or major modification.
CHILD SUPPORT MODIFICATIONS
Support may be modified one year after it was entered under very limited circumstances. Support may be modified at any time if there is a substantial change in circumstances. A motion for adjustment may be filed after two years without a showing of a substantial change in circumstances.
Modification After One Year.
RCW 26.09.170(5) provides in part:
An order of child support may be modified one year or more after it has been entered without showing a substantial change of circumstances:
(a) If the order in practice works a severe economic hardship on either party or the child;
(b) If a party requests an adjustment in an order of child support which was based on guidelines which determined the amount of support according to the child’s age, and the child is no longer in the age category on which the current support amount was based;
(c) If a child is still in high school, upon a finding that there is a need to extend support beyond the eighteenth birthday to complete high school.
Modifications Due to Substantial Change in Circumstances.
Child support may be modified upon a showing of a “substantial change in circumstances.” RCW 26.09.170(1). An obligor’s voluntary unemployment or voluntary underemployment by itself, is not a substantial change of circumstances. RCW 26.09.170(7). A party may petition for modification of child support in cases of substantially changed circumstances at any time. RCW 26.09.170(9)(b).
A good example of a substantial change in circumstances would be due to a layoff that was beyond the control of the parent. If, however, documentation was discovered that showed that the parent asked to be laid off, this would be voluntary unemployment and would not be grounds for a modification.
Adjustment to Support.
Many people get confused between a modification and an adjustment. A modification is a cause of action with a trial date. It potentially opens up every aspect of the order being modified. An adjustment keeps the basic support order in place, but recalculates the support amounts based upon each party’s income.
RCW 26.09.170(9)(a) provides: “All child support decrees may be adjusted once every twenty four months based upon changes in the income of the parents without a showing of substantially changed circumstances.”
Basically, every two years, either parent can file a motion and ask the court to do a recalculation.
Time Limit for Filing.
RCW 26.09.170(3) provides that: “Unless otherwise agreed in writing or expressly provided in the decree, provisions for the support of a child are terminated by emancipation of the child or by the death of the parent obligated to provide the support.” Emancipation usually means age 18, although many support orders provide support through age 18 or graduation from high school, whichever is later. Emancipation may also be later if a child has impairments and is dependent.
In general, if you want to modify a child support order (e.g. to extend it for college), you must do so before child support terminates. If you do not do so, the court may lose jurisdiction to make the change. If you are coming up on this deadline, make sure to notify your attorney immediately.