If you are getting or paying child support, this means you have a child support order in place. The child support order and amount can be reviewed and changed based on the cost of living. Read on to learn more about how the process works. [Note that this article is under review and the dollar amounts have not been updated since 2009]
A cost of living adjustment (COLA) for a child support order is when the amount of child support is increased because the cost of living has gone up. You do not have to show any change in your own personal circumstances to get a COLA.
If the child support is paid through the Support Collection Unit (SCU), the order will be eligible for the COLA review process unless:
- the person who is supposed to pay support (the payer) receives public assistance or SSI, or
- the Support Collection Unit (SCU) has no address for the payer.
The COLA review process applies to small $25/month and $50/month orders as well as orders based on a percentage of income.
You have to wait for two years after the child support order to get the first COLA. After that, you can get a COLA once a year.
Either parent can ask for a COLA, so it can be the parent who receives the child support or the parent who pays the child support.
For a COLA to happen, there has to have been a certain amount of change in the cost of living in your area. This is decided by looking at something called the Consumer Price Index for urban areas (CPI-U), which is published by the federal government. There has to have been a change of at least 10% from the year of the most current order, or since 1994, whichever is later.
The amount in the order is changed by following these steps:
1. Add together how much cost of living has gone up each year according to the Consumer Price Index for Urban Areas (CPI-U) since the last order, or beginning with 1994, whichever is later.
2. Multiply that number by the amount in the court order.
3. Add that number to the amount of the current order.
If you have a child support order for $10,000/year that was issued in 1998.
1. Average annual percent change in CPI-U:
1998 = 1.6%
1999 = 2.2%
2000 = 3.4%
2001 = 2.8%
2. 10% x $10,000 = $1,000
3. $10,000 + $1,000 = $11,000/year (the new amount for your adjusted child support order)
For orders paid for people who are on public assistance, the review is automatically done. For other cases, SCU issues a notice to both parties and either one can request a review.
No financial information is required from, or about, the parties. After making the calculations above, SCU adjusts the order and sends it to parties. SCU also sends a copy of the adjusted order to the court that issued the prior order, which could be the family court or the supreme court. (There is no involvement of the court or the support magistrate.)
The adjusted order goes into effect (starts) on whichever date is later:
- 60 days after the adjusted order is issued; or
- 24 months after the date of the order that is under review.
Once the new change kicks in, your first payment of the updated amount should be made on the same day you would usually make the next payment.
Either party (but not someone receiving public assistance), or the SCU, may file written objections to the adjusted order with the court. The objections must be filed within 35 days after the adjusted order is mailed, and a copy must be provided to the other party, and to the SCU. The objections must be made to the court that issued the prior order (family or supreme court).
When objections are received by the court, the adjusted order does not go into effect, and the court schedules a hearing and notifies all the parties (including the SCU).
There is no need to show a change of circumstances to justify the change in the order. SCU does not have to provide financial information to support its adjustment, and the parties do not offer evidence in support or in opposition to the adjustment.
The judge or support magistrate has only two options:
1. S/he can issue a new order based on the percentages in the Child Support Standards Act (CSSA) or
2. S/he can issue an order of no adjustment because the CSSA shows that no adjustment should be made.
If a new order is made based on the CSSA, that order could be more, or less, than current order. Read this PDF for more information on how the Child Support Standards Act (CSSA) affects child support amounts.
The date that the court's new order will go into effect on whichever date is the earliest:
- The date of the court's decision, or
- The date the adjusted order would have been effective if there had been no objection.
Last Reviewed: September 15, 2009