A parent who lives separately from his or her children may be ordered to pay child support. The money they pay could be used to cover their children’s basic needs, extracurricular activities or anything else. Because this monthly payment is court-ordered, noncustodial parents are required to pay the full amount whether they can afford it or not. There is something California parents can do if they don’t have enough money to pay child support.

Child support is based on a formula that takes both parents’ income and expenses, as well as the amount of time each parent spends with the children, into account. Because the order is based on the parents’ circumstances on the day it’s made, there may come a time when a parent is not able to afford the entire payment. If that happens, instead of skipping a payment, a noncustodial parent should request a modification from the court that issued the order.

A modification may only be granted in certain cases. For example, if a parent’s income changes significantly, they have a lot of new medical expenses or they’ve lost their only source of income, the court might agree to reduce the amount of support they have to pay. Since there are penalties associated with not paying child support, it’s important for parents to file for a modification as soon as they know they won’t be able to pay.

An attorney with family court experience may be able to help a parent file the appropriate motions to adjust their child support order. Rather than making an informal agreement with the other parent to pay less child support temporarily, parents whose circumstances have changed since the initial order was set should consult with an attorney to discuss their options for getting their child support permanently reduced.