Parents go through a lot of work establishing child custody plans and child support orders. In many cases, these come as part of a divorce, which carries many other painstaking processes, not to mention emotionally difficult situations. It’s understandable when parents feel exhausted by the ordeal. Some parents would do almost anything to avoid another argument with their ex, or another trip to the courthouse.

But child support arrangements and child custody agreements are not set in stone. They are works in progress, for a simple reason: Life can throw big, unexpected changes our way. Sometimes, even the most carefully crafted plan becomes unworkable due to changes in school or work schedules, income, housing or health. When this happens, it becomes necessary to seek a modification.

A common scenario in which a modification becomes necessary is when a parent paying child support loses a job, or otherwise experiences an unexpected drop in income. Suddenly it becomes much harder to meet the obligation of paying support. Often, these parents fall behind on payments, with disastrous results. Virginia has many ways of enforcing child support orders, including wage garnishment. In some cases, delinquent parents can lose their passport, driver’s license or professional licenses.

Parents can avoid this fate by requesting a modification. Essentially, this means telling the court about the life changes that have made the existing child support order unworkable. The court will examine the evidence and modify the order to better fit the parent’s changed circumstances.

It’s important to note that either parent can request a modification. A custodial parent who receives child support may request a modification if the child’s needs change, or even if the paying parent inherits a lot of money or gets a new, high-paying job, making them able to pay more for child support than they were at the time the original order was drafted.