Common questions about changing a child support order

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Massachusetts Law Reform Institute

Life may have changed since the court ordered child support for your child, and you may need to change the order.

The court can only modify the order after 3 kinds of changes:

  • A parent's income has changed, either going up or down,
  • Certain expenses for taking care of your child have changed, or
  • A parent's health insurance choices have changed.

It does not matter if you pay child support or you get child support. If either parent's life has changed in any of these 3 ways, you can ask the court to modify the order.


If the court changes the order, the change only goes back to the time you “served” the other parent with the Complaint to change the order. It is important to file and serve a Complaint to Modify as soon as you know you need to change the order.

This article has information about when you can change a child support order, and what kind of changes you can ask for. 

If you are ready to start a case to change the order, see How to change a child support order in court.

When can I get the child support order changed?

You can ask the court to change the child support order if there has been a change in one or both parents’ finances or a change in health insurance choices.

The financial change must be:

  • The income of one or both parents,
  • Expenses for caring for your child if:
    • Your child moves, or
    • Your child’s health changes dramatically.
    • Special educations needs have led to unplanned expenses.
    • Childcare costs have changed.
  • The amount that either parent pays for:
    • Childcare,
    • Health insurance,
    • Dental insurance, or
    • Vision insurance.

Some changes that can cause a parent’s income to go up or down are:

  • Losing a job,
  • Going on unemployment,
  • Going on welfare,
  • Getting a job that pays more money,
  • Getting fewer hours at work,
  • Getting injured or going on disability, or
  • Going to prison.
What can I ask the court to change in the order?

You can ask the court to change:

  • The “weekly support amount” – the amount you get from the Child Support Guidelines Worksheet,
  • Each parent’s share of routine medical and dental expenses over $250 each year,
  • Each parent’s share of unexpected medical and dental expenses,
  • Each parent’s share of other child-related expenses like educational or summer camp expenses,
  • Which parent pays child support,
  • Which parent provides health insurance,
  • When the order ends – see Ending a Child Support Order.
If the court changes my child support order, how far back does it go?

If the court changes your child support order, the new order only goes back to the date the Complaint for Modification was “served”. The “served” date is the date the other parent gets the Summons and Complaint about the case. See how to serve a defendant.

The new order does not go back to the date that your job or health care changed.

You cannot change the amount of money you get or money you owe before the “served” date.

For example:

You pay child support but you lose your job on July 12th. 
You file a Complaint for Modification on August 20th. 
The other parent gets the Summons (official notice) and Complaint on August 24th. 
The court changes your child support order on September 18th. The court decides you should pay less money. 
You pay less money starting on August 24th, not on July 12th.

If you and the other parent filed a Joint Petition/Motion to Change a Judgment/Temporary Order, the change goes back to the date you filed.


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