Lowering Child Support for Changed Financial Circumstances

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 How to Succeed on a Child Support Modification Case

If your family’s needs have changed due to certain circumstances, you have legally valid options to reflect your current situation. Although child support modification requirements vary from state to state, usually, to modify any child support payments, the requesting parent will have to demonstrate that a substantial change in circumstances has occurred since the support order was issued.

A substantial change in circumstances may be that one parent’s major salary decreased, a change in the child’s needs (such as medical or educational expenses), or a parent’s involuntary job loss.

Keep in mind that a “substantial change in circumstances” is not a temporary change. For instance, if a parent receives a large bonus for working overtime during Christmas, that salary increase is temporary and probably will not automatically imply an increase in child support.

But, if a parent works in a struggling industry and takes an involuntary pay cut, a judge may decrease that parent’s child support obligation. By contrast, if one parent quits a job or takes a low-paying job to reduce their support obligation, a judge will not modify the deadbeat parent’s support obligation.

How to Request the Court to Modify Child Support?

Sometimes, parents cannot agree to a change in child support. In that situation, you will have to file a motion or a written request with the court, seeking the modification and explaining how there has been an alteration in the circumstances since the date of the last support order.

The key issue is whether circumstances have altered enough to warrant an amendment in the existing support order. There are several events that might qualify as a change of circumstances requiring a child support modification.

These may vary from state to state, but some of the common ones include the following:

  • The child’s needs have changed, such as the child developing special medical or educational needs;
  • A parent gets a new job with a higher income;
  • A parent involuntarily loses a job or experiences a reduction in income;
  • A parent has become responsible for the support of a new child;
  • There has been a substantial change in how much time the child stays with each parent;
  • A parent has become disabled;
  • A parent has been incarcerated, and;
  • There have been notable changes in any other factors the court considered when setting the existing order.

Besides the ones listed above, there are also other child support considerations that courts may examine. For instance, in a parent’s remarriage, support guidelines usually do not include the new spouse’s income in calculating support. However, that income is indirect because it may decrease or increase the parent’s out-of-pocket expenses, such as household items.

Another issue relates to a parent’s possible voluntary income reduction. For instance, a parent might intentionally accept a lower-paying job to reduce child support obligations. Unfortunately, in that regard, the law permits courts to impute income.

A judge will study other elements, such as the parent’s education, prior earnings, and work history, and then decide the child support on what the parent should be earning rather than the reduced amount. If a parent tries to avoid child support this way will likely end up paying the same amount as earlier.

Lastly, depending on your state, child support awards may include a cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) provision. This implies that the support amount will periodically increase with the cost-of-living rate. The rate is generally based on an established economic indicator, like the Consumer Price Index. This provision might avert the need to request a child support modification in some scenarios. The custodial parent or the obligor may request a modification after a decreased income.

This change could be due to the following:

  • Unemployment;
  • A new job in a lower-paying industry and;
  • A change to part-time work.

If a non-custodial parent loses their primary income, they may be unable to meet their current child support obligation financially and request a modification to decrease their payment. If the parent who is the primary caretaker loses their income, they may seek an increase in payments from the non-custodial parent. If you are incarcerated, whether or not you can get a child support modification will vary depending on your state.

In some states, prison is considered “voluntary unemployment” and may not automatically qualify you for a modification. If you are sentenced to prison, you should immediately contact your local child support office to assess your case further. Your child support order will not necessarily be reduced when you enter prison.

Additionally, keep in mind that their needs will also increase as children age. This often comes with an increase in expenses for necessities such as:

  • Medical or dental care, such as braces;
  • Support or therapy for a child with a physical or learning disability;
  • Extracurricular classes, activities, or sports;
  • Attending a private school and;
  • A custodial parent might seek additional child support to assist in the costs associated with aging children or children whose needs have changed.

How are Child Support Payments affected During the COVID-19 Outbreak?

The coronavirus crisis has shown the accessibility gap for public health but also to the financial security of many Americans. Unemployment has risen infinitely, and many employees who have kept their jobs face steep pay cuts. Parents mandated to pay child support after a divorce, or the end of a relationship may struggle to keep up with their payments. Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the federal government provided stimulus payments for qualifying taxpayers.

According to the records, approximately 80 percent of Americans were eligible to receive this payment. If they owed child support, it was likely intercepted or reduced to cover the amount they owed. Some parents may inquire whether this payment will increase their income for child support purposes. This is unlikely because the check provides only a small, temporary boost to a parent’s income.

It is crucial to note that if a parent cannot keep paying child support due to financial hardships caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, they should not simply stop paying and assume that payments will be waived. Failing to pay child support can lead to severe consequences. Rather than stopping payments, therefore, a parent should try to work out an agreement with the recipient of the support. If the parents agree on a temporary modification, they can submit the agreement to seek a court’s approval.

Many family courts across the U.S. are temporarily closed or limited to emergency proceedings during the coronavirus outbreak. You should contact the local family court or visit their website to find out about any restrictions that may affect the process of pursuing a modification. Parents facing a financial emergency may want assistance from a child support agency in their state.

When Do I Need to Contact a Lawyer?

If you are financially unable to make payments for your child support order. Assistance is available for you depending on your situation and where you reside. It is important to seek out a local child support lawyer in your state dealing with child support to guide you through this process.

Your attorney can provide you with the legal representation and guidance you need for your case.


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