Changing a child support order: It’s a relatively easy thing to get wrong, and it probably leads to more infighting between divorced former spouses than necessary. When is the right time to change a child support order? For an ex-spouse receiving child support, the answer might be any time the paying spouse gets an income boost. On the other hand, the paying spouse might protest that the only time to change the order is when she or he wins the lottery. Of course, they’d both be wrong, and the lines are fairly clear.

In Kentucky, child support order changes are governed by KRS 403.213, which sets a threshold level for determining when child support orders should change. According to KRS 403.213, the standard is a “material change in circumstances,” but the statute helpfully provides a figure for what constitutes that material change: a 15% deviation from the child support guidelines set out in KRS 403.212. That means that a changed circumstance must yield a new child support figure that is at minimum a 15% difference from the current support order to meet the “material” standard and get the approval of court that is required for any changes in a support order. It’s important to note that the 15% figure doesn’t just apply to the income of the former spouse paying child support; there are several ways in which child support changes can meet the 15% figure. For instance, if an ex-spouse had been a stay-at-home parent receiving child support but now enters the workforce, that might result in a 15% change in the child support calculation. If a child support obligor changes jobs and health insurance costs skyrocket, this could also result in a material change.

There are other circumstances that may warrant a change in child support, such as a job loss, a change in custody of the child, or an increase (or decrease) in the care needs of the child. The bottom line is that not every 3% raise or 5% additional cost of health insurance will warrant a change to a child support order. The change must be substantial and continuing, and, most importantly, it must be approved by a court. All too often I see people fall into a trap where they agreed to a change among themselves and without a court order, and then years down the road, they find themselves owing substantial back support. If you are ever curious as to whether a child support order is entitled to a modification, it is a good idea to consult an attorney to review it.