In divorce and child custody proceedings, the custodial parent is the most responsible in caring for the child. The custodial parent may have sole physical or legal custody. The custodial parent typically receives child support payments from the noncustodial parent. Child support payments intend to provide for and assist with the expenses associated with raising the child, such as food, shelter, clothing, medical care, and education.

The custodial parent has the legal right to spend child support payments in the child’s best interests or how they see fit. However, they also have the legal responsibility to use those funds appropriately. If the custodial parent does not spend payments that benefit or provide for the child, they could be charged with neglect or child abuse.

The custodial parent also has a legal obligation to spend child support payments for the child’s expenses and not their own. Child support payments cannot be used for just anything. This would be unfair to the child and the noncustodial parent making the payments for the benefit of their child.

If the custodial parent is financially irresponsible and misuses child support payments, the noncustodial parent may modify the child support order. Modifying a child support order can be rather difficult, and the parent may be required to file an abuse or neglect charge. However, a court may modify the payments if it is determined that the modification is necessary and justified.

Above all else, decisions must be balanced with the child’s best interests. The parent seeking the modification of the child support payments must prove to the court that there has been a significant change in financial circumstances. This would prove that modification is, in fact, necessary.

How Can the Amount of Child Support Be Changed?

As previously mentioned, to change a child support order, the parent seeking the change must petition the court for an order modification. Further, they must prove to the court that a modification is necessary and in the best interest of the child affected. Generally, a modification would be granted if a change in circumstances would make the existing amount of child support payments unfair.

It is generally difficult to modify a child support order because the parents are legally responsible for the welfare of their child. Courts take that responsibility seriously. Common reasons for a change in child support payments include:

  • Loss of job;
  • Increased health insurance payments;
  • Additional, special needs of the child;
  • Unexpected or increased educational expenses;
  • Increased income of the other parent; or

Reduced income that “deviates substantially” from the state’s child support guidelines.
If you can prove that the custodial parent is using the child support payments irresponsibly, you may be able to have the custody order modified. However, as previously mentioned, a neglect or abuse charge is often required first.

Can I Seek a Change of Custody?

Because of a custodial parent’s financial irresponsibility, it may be possible to modify custody orders. The noncustodial parent may argue to the court that the other parent is not responsibly caring for the child and that a change in custody would be in the child’s best interest. As discussed above, this may be granted by proving a significant change in circumstances.

Other circumstances that would lead to seeking a change of custody include:

  • The noncustodial parent’s work schedule changes in such a way that they are better suited for the primary care for the child;
  • The noncustodial parent has moved closer to the child and is now able to care for the child;
  • The child prefers the other parent and is old enough to state and defend such a preference;
  • The custodial parent is otherwise irresponsible, such as being unable to get the child to school, substance abuse, physical abuse, etc.;
  • The child’s main home environment is poor; or
  • The child is struggling academically under the care of the custodial parent.

The court typically ensures that the original order best suits the specific family circumstances. It is important to prove that a new custody order will better meet the child’s physical and emotional needs. Each jurisdiction has its own criteria for modifying a custody order.

Generally, to petition for a court hearing to change custody, the requirements include:

  • Filling out relevant court forms and having those forms reviewed by your attorney;
  • Filing those forms with the court clerk;
  • Serving papers to the other parent;
  • Acquiring your court or mediation date; and
  • Attending the court-ordered mediation or court hearing.

What Are the Characteristics of a Malicious Parent?

A malicious parent purposely and vengefully acts towards the other parent following a divorce. Malicious parents may:

  • Attempt to punish the divorcing parent by alienating their children from the other parent and involving the courts in actions to separate parent and child
  • Seek to deny children visitation, communications with the other parent, and involvement in the child’s school or extra-curricular activities
  • Lie to their children and others repeatedly or engage in violations of the law

What Are the Legal Consequences of Malicious Acts by a Co-Parent?

Behaviors associated with malicious parents can have legal consequences and may constitute civil and criminal law violations.

Some actions by malicious parents can easily be understood as criminal acts. Attacking the other parent or damaging their property is a criminal act. Depriving children of food or money to make the other parent look bad could constitute a form of cold abuse, which can violate both family and criminal law. If a malicious parent lies under oath, they may be charged with perjury.

Other acts may be violations of civil law. Denying a parent their court-ordered visitation rights can be illegal and result in fines, court-ordered counseling, and custody and visitation plans adjustments. Lying about the acts of another parent in a way that harms their reputation and results in actual injury can constitute defamation.

Malicious behavior by a parent can impact parenting plans and custody arrangements. If a parent has been involved in alienating, cruel, or illegal behavior, it may affect proceedings to gain or adjust custody.

Do I Need an Attorney for Help with Custody Issues?

If you wish to change your child support order or your child custody order, it is in your best interest to consult with a skilled and knowledgeable child support lawyer in your area. It is important to remember that you will need to prove that the custodial parent is behaving irresponsibly and that you are better suited to parent the child. Further, you will need to prove that a change in custody is in the child’s best interest because of the other parent’s financial irresponsibility.

An experienced child support lawyer will be able to assist you in understanding your state’s specific laws and advise you on your best course of legal action. They will be able to represent your interests in court as needed.

Parents should want nothing more than for their children to have the best possible start to their lives. It can be upsetting when a malicious parent or abuser stands in the way. There are legal processes to help resolve issues related to child abuse. Issues related to child abuse are best navigated by hiring an experienced family law attorney.