Child support is a parent’s court-ordered payment to help with the costs of raising a child. The judge can enter an order to start or change child support until a child turns 18, or in some situations, until the child turns 19 ½. You can ask to start child support by filing a motion in your existing family court case. If you do not have an existing family court case, you can apply for child support services to get a case started or file the case on your own. There are several different ways to change a child support order.
Children have a legal right to financial support from both parents. A parent can't avoid paying child support by agreeing not to have parenting time (visitation) or by agreeing to have their parental rights terminated. Sometimes a parent must continue to pay child support even after their parental rights have been terminated. If your child's other parent owes child support, you cannot limit parenting time as a way to enforce child support.
If You Already Have a Family Court Case
If you have a case in family court involving custody or parenting time, but you don't have a child support order, you can file a Motion Regarding Support to ask the judge to start child support.
If you already have a child support order in your existing case, either party can file a Motion Regarding Support asking the judge to change the support amount. The moving party (the parent asking to change support) must show the judge there is a reason for the change. Examples of reasons why child support could be changed include:
Either parent gets a raise or a new job that pays more
Either parent loses a job
Either parent begins to provide health care coverage for the child
The child’s needs increase
Custody arrangements change
Child care expenses increase
A child turns 18 and is no longer in high school
File a Motion Regarding Support right away if your job changes or if the custody arrangement changes. Past due child support amounts normally cannot be changed. This means the judge cannot change the amount of a child support payment after that payment is due. If the parents informally change custody arrangements, child support isn’t automatically changed. If a parent wants a change in support for any reason, they must file a motion asking to change child support.
The Michigan Child Support Formula is used to calculate child support. If either parent asks to start child support or to change it, the judge will use the formula to decide the amount of support. To find out what the support amount might be in your case, you can use the MiChildSupport Calculator on the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) website.
You can use the Do-It-Yourself Motion to Change or Get Child Support tool to prepare a Motion Regarding Support.
If You Do Not Have a Family Court Case
If you don’t have an existing case in family court, there are two different ways you can get a child support order. One option is to apply online for child support services through the Office of Child Support (OCS). After you submit your application, the OCS will start a child support case. The OCS will send your information to the local prosecuting attorney's (PA) office. The PA will coordinate genetic testing if the father's legal paternity has not been established. The PA will also ask the judge to establish paternity (if needed) and to enter a child support order.
If you apply for child support through OCS, the PA will handle your case. To learn more about the process, you can read the MDHHS' parent handbook called Understanding Child Support.
If the father's paternity has already been established through an Affidavit of Parentage and you want to file for child support on your own, you can file a complaint for custody, parenting time, and support. Visit Filing a Custody Case (Unmarried Parents) to learn more. If you file your own case, you can submit an Application for IV-D Child Support Services to your local Friend of the Court (FOC) office. You would still be responsible for moving your case forward, but applying for child support services ensures that the FOC can provide services in your case related to custody, parenting time, and child support. To learn about these services, read Friend of the Court Overview.
Friend of the Court Review
If the child or custodial parent gets public benefits, the Friend of the Court automatically reviews the child support order once every 36 months. The FOC will also review the child support order if a parent asks for a review in writing. A parent can only make this request once every 36 months (three years), unless the parent proves there has been a major change in circumstances. For example, a parent might show there has been a major change in either parent’s job or in the custody arrangements. A judge can also order the FOC to review support.
The FOC will only ask the judge to change child support if the difference between the current support amount and the new amount is at least 10 percent of the current support amount (or at least $50, whichever is greater). If the difference between the current support amount and the new amount is less, the FOC doesn’t have to ask the judge to change it.
For example, let’s say you currently pay $400 per month in child support, but your income went down because your work hours were cut. If it has been more than three years since you asked the FOC to review your order, you can request an FOC review in writing. If the FOC finds that your new child support obligation would be less than $350 per month, it will ask the judge to change it. The difference in the two amounts is $50 and 12.5%.
If You Are Behind on Child Support Payments
If you are behind on your payments, you may want to talk to a lawyer before filing any papers in court. If you file a Motion Regarding Support, the judge may review your case and penalize you for the support you owe. If you have low income you may qualify for free legal services. Whether you have low income or not, you can use the Guide to Legal Help to find lawyers in your area.
If you owe a lot of back child support (called “arrears”) that you are unable to pay, visit Filing for a Payment Plan or Debt Forgiveness of Unpaid Child Support to learn more about your options.
You May Not Get What You Ask For
A new order could make the support more or less than you have now. The judge will use the Michigan Child Support Formula to decide the amount of support. The judge must order support according to the formula unless the result would be unfair or inappropriate.
If the parents reach an agreement about the child support amount, the judge can consider the agreement, but they do not have to approve it. If you have agreed to child support in an amount different from the formula, you must fill out an extra form: the Uniform Child Support Order Deviation Addendum. File this form with your Uniform Child Support Order.
How to File a Motion Regarding Child Support
You can use the Do-It-Yourself Motion to Change or Get Child Support tool if you have:
A pending Michigan divorce, separate maintenance, paternity, custody, or family support case, and you want to ask the judge to start child support, OR
A Michigan judgment of divorce or separate maintenance, or a paternity or custody order that didn’t include child support, and you now want to ask the judge to start child support, OR
A child support order from a Michigan divorce, separate maintenance, paternity, custody, or family support case, and you want to ask the judge to change the amount of child support
After you prepare your Motion Regarding Support, date and sign it. Make several copies and take it to the circuit court clerk’s office in the county where your family law case is located. Ask the clerk for a hearing date and time for your motion. The court will charge a fee to file your motion. If you get public assistance or cannot afford to pay the fee, you can ask the court to waive the fee. You can use the Do-It-Yourself Fee Waiver tool to do this.
If you have a child support order from another state but now live in Michigan, you may want to talk to a lawyer or the local Friend of the Court office. You may be able to have your case transferred to Michigan, but you cannot use our forms to transfer your case.
What Happens after You File a Motion Regarding Support
Read the instructions in Filing to Change or Get a Child Support Order to make sure you follow all the steps in the process.
There will probably be a hearing in front of a judge or a Friend of the Court referee. At the hearing you and the other parent will each have a chance to say why you think support should be started, changed, or left the same. Bring financial information to support what you are asking for, such as your most recent:
- Pay stubs, W-2s, income tax returns
- Social Security statements (if you get disability)
- Bank statements
- Child care expenses
A referee is different from a judge. A referee makes a written report and recommendation after a hearing. A judge has to approve the recommendation before it can become an order in your case. If the hearing is with a referee, they will send a copy of their written report and recommended order to both parties and the judge after the hearing. After a referee issues a recommendation, if you do not file an objection within 21 days after you are served, the recommendation can become an order. To learn more, read Friend of the Court Overview.
If your hearing is in front of a judge, the judge may decide whether to start or change child support at the end of the hearing, or they may make a decision after the hearing.
The judge could also refer your case to the Friend of the Court for a support investigation and recommendation. If you disagree with the Friend of the Court recommendation, you will have a chance to file an objection before the recommendation becomes a court order. To learn more, read Friend of the Court Overview.
To learn more about child support, read Child Support in a Nutshell.
Finding a Lawyer
You might decide you want a lawyer to help you. If you have low income, you may qualify for free legal services. Whether you have a low income or not, you can use the Guide to Legal Help to find lawyers in your area. If you are not able to get free legal services but can’t afford high legal fees, consider hiring a lawyer for part of your case instead of the whole thing. This is called limited scope representation. To learn more, read Limited Scope Representation (LSR): A More Affordable Way to Hire a Lawyer. To find a limited scope lawyer, follow this link to the State Bar of Michigan lawyer directory. This link lists lawyers who offer limited scope representation. You can narrow the results to lawyers in your area by typing in your county, city, or zip code at the top of the page. You can also narrow the results by topic by entering the kind of lawyer you need (divorce, estate, etc.) at the top of the page.