Modifying your Child Support and Alimony Payments

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The law grants high priority to family payments ordered to be made after a divorce.  When an adult has a child, he or she is legally responsible for the welfare of that child.  That legal duty includes the economic support of the child until the age of 18. 

Thus, child support payments cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.  Back-due child support or alimony payments previously ordered by the court cannot be reduced or adjusted.  Failing to make family payments can result in attachment of your wages, loss of drivers’ license, liens on your property, and punishment for being in contempt of court. 

However, child support and spousal support payments can be reduced by filing a “motion to modify” at your state family court, particularly if it has been several years since the previous court order.  However, your situation must have changed “substantially and continuously,” which can include loss of job, added health insurance payments, unexpected educational expenses, the other parent makes more money, increased day care costs and travel costs, decrease in amount of time spent, or your income has been reduced such that it “deviates substantially” (more than 15% in some states) from child support guidelines. 

The first step is looking at the child support guidelines on the appropriate website for your state, so that you can compare your income with your current support payments.  California provides a support calculator for this purpose, requiring the user to enter all of their personal information.  Support payments normally range from 20-50% of your income.  Guidelines also depend on the number of children you have to support

You can file a motion to modify child support yourself and represent yourself in court, or you can hire an attorney.  Hiring an attorney is advised in the more complicated case of alimony payments.  Having a state representative file it for you is usually the cheapest option, although it can be slow.

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Last Modified: 06-04-2012 11:42 AM PDT

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