Child support payments are an essential financial responsibility that helps to support your children. When a parent fails to make child support payments, children will not have the basic support they need to survive and grow. However, if your circumstances shift and you cannot make payments in the amount set in your order, contact the local Family Support Division (FSD) to discuss your options.
All states are required by federal law to have procedures for periodic review and adjustment (if appropriate) for child support orders handled by state child support agencies. The child support agency automatically reviews the support orders in “TANF” (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) cases at least once every three years. In “non-TANF” cases, the child support agency will provide notice to either parent or custodian of their right to seek a review of their child support order at least once every three years. But, either party may propose a review at any time based on a substantial change in circumstances.
Child support agencies conduct reviews in a mixture of ways. Working with parents or custodians, they might:
- Review and, if reasonable, adjust the order according to the child support guidelines if the amount of child support under the order varies from the amount that would be awarded according to the guidelines;
- Apply a cost-of-living adjustment to the order according to a formula developed by the state or tribe and;
- Employ automated methods (including automated comparisons with wage or state income tax data) to identify orders eligible for review, conduct the review, identify orders eligible for adjustment, and apply the appropriate adjustment.
Remember that if the child support order changes, it does not warrant an automatic decrease. It must be proved that there has been a “substantial change in circumstances.” The reviewing authority will determine if there has been a change in circumstances. If your financial situation has improved, for instance, your order may be increased.
If you have lost a job, your order may be decreased, but it depends on your overall income and other components. Generally, the court administrative officer makes the final decision.
What is a Substantial and Material Change?
A parent does not have to wait three years to request a modification. Any parent can request a review and adjustment conference or file a motion to modify if there has been a substantial and material change in the non-custodial parent’s ability to pay or the needs of the child(ren). Normally, this implies that the new order amount must be different from the current one by 15% or more.
The Child Support Services Division (CSSD) will proceed with the review only if you provide sufficient evidence of substantial and material change in circumstances. For instance, the DC Child Support Guideline is the law that determines how much support a non-custodial parent should pay.
By law, only certain information is adopted in a formula to calculate the guideline amount, which includes:
- The incomes of both parents;
- The custodial parent’s child care expenses;
- The non-custodial parent medical insurance expenses for the child;
- The non-custodial parent’s other child support obligation amount and;
- The number of the non-custodial parent’s child(ren), biological or adopted, currently living in the household.
What Factors are Considered for a Modification?
The basic child support obligation is evaluated by considering the following factors:
- The amount of any pre-existing court order for child support and spousal support paid is deducted from the gross income of the non-custodial parent;
- Net child care costs incurred due to employment or job search (minus the value of the federal tax credit for child care) or reasonable child care expenses incurred while either parent is receiving job training or education essential to obtain employment or enhance earning potential can be added to the basic obligation;
- If either parent holds health insurance for the child(ren) support, the cost of that coverage is added to the basic child support obligation and;
- A provision may also be rendered for extraordinary expenses of a child, such as medical or special or private schooling needs, by agreement of the parties or order of the court.
What is the Legal Process of Modification?
Child support is a payment that you or the other parent pay to meet your child’s financial needs (like purchasing food and clothing). The court or Child Support Enforcement Agency (CSEA) determines the child support amount based on your income, expenses for the child (such as childcare and health insurance), and how much time you spend with the child. All states have their process on how to file for a modification.
For instance, the amount of child support is determined by a standard set of rules from Ohio law. You can utilize the Ohio Child Support Calculator to see if your support amount could increase or decrease based on the law. If you believe that the amount of child support you pay or receive needs to be altered, there are two ways to request a change:
- Request a CSEA review or;
- File a motion in court.
You can attend court in person to explain your story to the judge or magistrate. The court has more flexibility to consider personal situations when deciding if the parent is voluntarily unemployed or if the order should be revised. If your support order has multiple deviations from Ohio’s standard child support guidelines, the court may need to review the variations to see if they are still reasonable. You may need to pay court costs.
Moreover, you will need to properly “serve” the other party. The court process can be more challenging, and you may want to speak with a lawyer before going to court. Requesting a CSEA review is one way to request a child-support change by having the county CSEA review your order.
A review entails a caseworker examining both parties’ information to recognize whether child support or health insurance should be added or changed. The parties do not have to attend the administrative review. Furthermore, another way to request a child support modification is to file a motion in court. The motion should be filed with:
- The court that issued the original child support order could be a Juvenile or Domestic Relations Court;
- If the original order was from CSEA and not a court, the motion should be filed with the Juvenile court in the same county as the CSEA that issued the order and;
- Attending court is more complicated than having a CSEA review.
If you decide to go to court, you should:
- Complete the right paperwork. Use the statewide forms to modify a child support order here. Check with your local court to see if they require additional forms;
- Explain your change of situation. On the paperwork, show how your circumstances differ (like if your income is different or your custody changes). The change must result in at least a 10% chance to the total child support amount;
- File the paperwork. File the paperwork at the Domestic Relations or Juvenile court;
- Serve the other party. Serve papers to the other parent. Follow the court’s service rules;
- Attend the hearing and;
- While your case is pending before the court, the law mandates you to keep paying support at the old amount. Otherwise, you will have to pay any back payments due.
If the court decides there is a change of circumstances, the court will impose a new child support amount.
When Do I Need to Contact a Lawyer?
If you find yourself in a situation where you need to have the child support lowered, options are available. It is recommended to keep making payments to ensure additional fees pile up. If you have a certain issue, it would be useful to get in touch with a local child support lawyer to assist you with the process.