Modifying Child Support Payments

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The law assigns high priority to child support payments ordered to be paid upon a divorce.  When adults have a baby, they become legally responsible for the welfare of that child.  That legal duty includes the economic support of the child until a pre-agreed event, such as the child reaching the age of majority (usually 18 years old), graduating from college or becoming married. The pre-agreed event will vary by contract. The laws governing child support will also vary from state to state. 

Can Child Support Be Discharged In Bankruptcy?

Since it is the parent’s responsibility to provide for the child, child support payments cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.  Back-due child support payments previously ordered by the court cannot be reduced or adjusted.  Failing to make child support payments can result in the attachment of wages, loss of drivers’ license, liens on property, and punishment for being in contempt of court

How Can Child Support Be Reduced?

Future child support payments can be reduced by filing a “motion to modify” in the state court’s family law department, particularly if it has been several years since the court issued its previous order.  However, one’s situation must have changed “substantially and continuously,” which can include loss of job due to disability, added health insurance payments, unexpected educational expenses, the other parent earning more money, increased daycare and travel costs, decrease in visitation time, or decrease in income such that it “deviates substantially” (more than 15% in some states) from state child support guidelines. 

The first step involves looking at the child support guidelines, so that one can compare income with current support payments.  For example, California provides a child support calculator for this purpose, requiring the user to enter all of their personal information.  Support payments normally range from 20-50% of income.  Child support guidelines also depend on the number of children supported.

One can file a motion to modify child support and self-represent in court, or a state representative can do it for you in some instances.  Having a state representative file it is usually the cheapest option, although it can be slow.

How Can Child Support Be Increased?

Increases in child support can be triggered and/or influenced by a number of factors. Such factors can include the paying parent experiencing a substantial boost in income, the parent holding custody of the children experiencing a significant drop in income or the child(ren) require more support due to certain events such as hospitalization or entering college.

Like reduction in child support, increases in child support must be filed as a “motion to modify” in the state court's family law department. In essence, the process for increasing child support is the same as reducing it, but for a different outcome.

If Both Parents Agree to Modify Child Support, Do We Still Have to Go To Court?

If both parents can agree to modify child support, a Court hearing is not necessary. However, the agreement must still be filed with the Court. This is typically accomplished when both parents file an uncontested motion to modify support. 

Be forewarned that child support does not meet the standards for enforcement of oral contracts. Any modification or attempts to modify child support should be in writing.

Do I Need A Lawyer To Modify Child Support?

The Court process behind modifying child support can be challenging. Having an experience family law attorney can help protect your interests. Even if both parents can agree on a modification of child support, having an attorney read over the revised contract is wise.

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Last Modified: 05-30-2012 11:34 AM PDT

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