Child support orders, like child custody orders, are never finalized to a point which prevents modification. The Courts recognize that circumstances change, and that all orders regarding minor children should reflect what is in the best interests of the children under the existing circumstances.
Child support is usually ordered until a minor reaches the age of 18 years, or completes his or her high school education, whichever event occurs latest. But, in any case, support is terminated when the child has reached the age of 19 ½ (regardless of whether he or she has completed a high school education). Child support is modifiable so long as support is ordered.
Petitioning the Court to Modify Child Support
There are generally two ways in which a child support order can be reviewed for modification. First, a parent may petition the court for a modification in support based upon a sufficient change in circumstances. Some clear examples of a change in circumstances would include an involuntary reduction in income or work hours, a significant increase in income to the other party, or a serious injury or illness which affects a party’s long term ability to earn income.
Specific allegations of a change in circumstances are addressed by the Court on a case by case basis. In cases where the Court finds that a party has established a sufficient change in circumstances, the Michigan Child Support Formula will be utilized to determine the new support amount, just as it was used in the initial child support determination. The new child support amount will only be ordered, however, if the modification amounts to a change of at least 10% from the current order, or $50 per month, whichever is greater.
Second, a parent can request, or the Friend of the Court can initiate on its own, a review of child support once every three years, with or without any alleged change in circumstances.
Retroactive Child Support Modifications
A common question that arises in the context of support modifications is the issue of retroactive modifications. According to statute, retroactive modifications of support are severely restricted. Specifically, MCL 552.603(2) states that:
Retroactive modification of a support payment due under a support order is permissible with respect to a period during which there is pending a petition for modification, but only from the date that notice of the petition was given to the payer or recipient of support.
In other words, the new Court order can only be made retroactively effective to the date the petition to modify support was filed and served upon the other party, but no further.
By way of example, if a parent suffers an involuntary reduction in income in February, but does not file a petition to modify their support obligation until August, the new support order can only be make effective as far back as August, even if it is not entered until November. The parent will thus be charged support from February through August based upon their previous higher income.
This provision is intended to encourage parties to be prompt in filing for support modifications relative to when the change in circumstances occurred, but not to penalize parents for unforeseen delays in obtaining a new order due to circumstances beyond the parties’ control, such as the timeliness of the Court’s docket. Parents are therefore encouraged not to put off any petitions to modify their support orders when an unforeseen change in their circumstances occurs.