Only a judge can change child support orders. What does it take?

Change is a fact of life. When it affects a parent's ability to meet child support obligations, it may be time to ask the court for a modification.

Oklahoma's Department of Human Services recorded another record year collecting child support funds in fiscal 2013. Newspapers across the state recently reported that the DHS managed to secure $362.5 million in nearly 207,000 cases from delinquent parents during that time period.

According to the Tulsa World, the department has set a new collection record every year since 1998. Despite that, officials acknowledge that the amount still outstanding is estimated to total $2.2 billion.

State officials say that gap contributes to Oklahoma's child poverty rate and their efforts are aimed at making sure that parents who are under court orders to pay child support live up to those obligations to ease the burden on taxpayers.

To that end, the DHS has issued a Most Wanted list naming parents who are behind on their payments. At the low end is a Tahlequah man who owes $4,126. At the other end of the spectrum is another Tahlequah man who owes more than $148,000. In Norman, 16 men have made the list.

The parent must act

Few would likely deny that the state has a duty to do all it can to make sure that parents meet their responsibilities for the welfare and best interests of the children they have brought into the world. But what gets overlooked in the statistics is that sometimes circumstances that were in place when initial decisions on child support were made may have changed, resulting in a parent being unable to pay.

State law provides for such occurrences, but it is important to know that the onus is on the parent with the support obligation to seek a modification of support terms, and it should be done immediately upon any change taking place. The bottom line is that a child support order can only be changed by a judge. If no request is made, the original obligation remains in place and can be enforced.

To initiate a modification, the DHS offers emphasizes that you have to send in a written request to the office handling your case. It is possible to file the paperwork on your own, but to be sure that you are covering all the bases properly and taking all possible issues into account, it's best to work with an attorney.

Not all requests qualify for a change. To pursue a modification:

  • The existing order cannot include an order for medical support
  • The current order must not have been calculated under Child Support Guidelines
  • The change must represent a change of at least 20 percent
  • There must be a "significant change of circumstance"

What is "significant change?"

Many things can constitute a significant change. It may be that a child is no longer entitled to support. If either parent becomes disabled, a modification might be in order. A change by the court related to child custody might prompt an adjustment, as might any change in child daycare medical insurance.

More to the point of this article, situations in which the income of one or the other parent changes significantly might warrant a modification.

As with most government processes, modifications take time -- up to 180 days in most instances, according to the DHS. And that could be longer if the modification involves working with officials in another state.

What is clear is that while changes can be sought, they may be a challenge to obtain. The first step in seeking a change should always be to enlist the help of experienced legal counsel.

Keywords: child support, modifications,