The most common topics in a modification are child custody / parenting time, child support, and spousal support. Other topics are specifically not modifiable by law, including aspects of property and debt division or awards of attorney fees. A change in the legal or primary physical custody of a child is a major undertaking. There must be a substantial change in the parties’ circumstances before a court will consider such a change (in Washington, this is known as “adequate cause” to make the change). After a substantial change has been established, the court will determine what is in the child’s best interests. The analysis will be similar to what would occur in an initial custody determination. A modification of parenting time or visitation requires a lower standard of proof because of legal or primary physical custody are not contested. A new parenting schedule can be established by proving that it is in the child’s best interests. Again, the legal analysis will focus on similar factors as noted above. Spousal support is usually subject to modification as well, although there is a greater emphasis on the original purpose of the support award and the parties’ economic circumstances (both at the time of the original award and at the time of the requested modification).
Like other modifications, there must be an unanticipated and substantial change in a party’s circumstances before a modification of spousal support will be considered. Child support modifications are unique – they may be initiated after a change in circumstances or simply by the passage of time (established by state law or administrative rule). Increases or decreases in income, the parents’ adoption of a different parenting plan, or the birth of a non-joint child are common reasons to adjust child support. The attorneys in our office can assess the merits of a potential modification, whether it is sought by you or another party. As in the original legal proceedings, we can effectively pursue a fair settlement through negotiations or litigate the modification request in a court setting. At all stages of the process, you will be informed so you can make the best possible decision how to proceed.