After a divorce involving children, child support usually represents a substantial regular expense. Formulaic in nature, once in place, these court-ordered payments can be tough to change. But you can, however, modify child support orders. At least in theory if not always in practice.
It’s important to know that changes in your income can affect your support obligation, especially during tough economic times.
A common child support mistake for parents who have lost their job or taken a pay cut is to not ask for a reduction in their payments. By simply making all parties aware of a change, a conversation can be started to modify child support payments.
How Do You Modify A Child Support Order?
Like most orders the court issues, it’s not easy to change these. Judges are often reluctant to change child support orders already in effect. But as we said, there is a process to modify child support.
Child support is designed to cover all the expenses of raising and caring for children. The court takes into account a number of factors when calculating the amount. The formula considers the need, the individual incomes of the parents, the division of parenting time, and more.
To gain a reduction, you must file a motion requesting a decrease based on the substantial change of circumstances with the court.
This is extremely important because even if you have made an informal agreement with the other parent, it is not considered legally binding. It’s crucial to have a court order explicitly modifying your support obligation. This makes the alteration concrete. Otherwise, it can come back to bite you.
If you don’t have a court order changing the amount you owe every month, you remain obligated to pay the full amount. When you don’t follow the orders, your payments accumulate interest which you will ultimately have to pay in addition to the original amount.
Related Reading: An In-Depth Look At Types Of Child Custody
Do You Qualify To Change Your Child Support Order?
In order to modify child support orders, you must meet certain specific criteria. This means a number of things, but there are common instances.
Modification Factors Include:
- One or both parents’ income has changed. This can be either a significant increase or decrease.
- One parent loses his or her job.
- One parent goes to jail or is institutionalized against their will for more than 90 days. Payments are automatically suspended temporarily after this time.
- One parent has a new child from another relationship, which impacts their financial situation.
- Parenting time changes. How much time each parent spends with the child plays into support payments, so when that shifts, the amount may follow suit.
- The child’s needs change. This often means that there’s a new need for health care, regular child care, or new educational requirements.
- Any factors used in calculating child support change. Income looms largest of these, but things like taxes, the cost of insurance, mandatory union dues, and others also play a part.
Whatever the case, the party seeking to modify child support bears the responsibility of showing the change in circumstances. You’ll have to provide proof of income and expenses, medical fees, childcare costs, employment status, visitation and parenting time arrangements, and more.
The good news is that it is possible to modify child support. It takes time and effort, but the court will change the order in the right circumstances.
But as we said, it’s a tough road. Often, even if you do show a significant change in circumstances, courts remain reluctant to change support orders.
Before you get started, it’s likely best to talk to an attorney. An experienced pro should be able to give you an idea of how realistic your chances are.
Related Reading: Breaking Down The Child Support Formula
Items of Note:
– The courts don’t retroactively modify child support. They change future payments, but not existing ones. That means if you owe back child support, you remain on the hook for that amount. Even if the court modifies your payments going forward.
– If you’re the receiving parent and a judge ordered child support below the guideline amount—e.g. less than the amount shown in the calculator—you can request a change at any time.
– Don’t overlook written orders. Small details are the most important. Written orders explicitly define the specifics of all aspects of your custody agreement. Your written order spells out who is responsible for support payments, tax breaks, medical insurance, and more.
– Your court order outlines how payments are to be made. Payments not made through the approved channels may be construed as a gift and not be applied toward your obligation.
– Keep proof of payment. Regardless of how amicable the relationship with your child’s other parent is, always have proof of every dollar you pay. This is an all too common child support mistake. When in doubt, always document child support payments.
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