Child support refers to a periodic, court ordered support payment for a child. The purpose of child support is to assist in providing for the financial needs of a child of divorce. It is generally paid by the noncustodial parent. These payments are intended to provide for expenses like food, shelter, clothing,health care, and educational expenses.
The court determines the amount of child support payments by considering several different factors. Additionally, each state has its own guidelines that are used to calculate the amount of child support to be paid. However, child support guidelines can vary greatly from state to state. Some of the specific factors that judges consider when determining child support amounts include:
- The needs of the specific child, such as health insurance, education, day care expenses, and any special needs that the child may have;
- The income and needs of the custodial parent;
- The income of the paying parent, as well as their ability to pay; and
- The child’s standard of living prior to their parent’s divorce or separation.
In order to accurately determine child support amounts, the court will generally require each parent to provide a financial statement that details their monthly income and expenses. Based on the financial information provided, the court will use a standardized formula in order to calculate an exact number to be paid and how often it should be paid. Depending on the state laws and specific circumstances of the case, visitation arrangements may also be considered when child support is calculated.
Just because there is a child support order in place does not mean that the parent required to make said payments will not always cooperate and make those payments on time, or in full. There are a few ways to enforce the child support order, such as asking your local district attorney to serve papers to the parent who is violating the order. If that parent still does not make their court ordered payments, other methods of enforcement include seizing tax refunds, garnishing wages, and revoking passports.
Child support orders are legally binding, and generally can only be modified under specific circumstances. However, they can be modified or lowered, especially if there is a change in the financial circumstances of one of the parents. The parent paying the support must file a motion to modify with the court, and will need to present the court with a compelling justification as to why the modification is necessary.
Generally, an inability to continue making the court ordered amount in child support payments will occur due to a decrease in income or assets. Some other significant changes that may warrant a modification include: loss of employment due to disability, an increase in health insurance costs, increased daycare costs, increased transportation costs, or increased education costs.
When determining whether to modify a child support order and lower the amount of the monthly payment, the court will employ a balance test of the following factors:
- The child’s best interests, first and foremost;
- The court’s earlier decisions;
- The desire to avoid unnecessary litigation; and
- The financial burden that each parent faces.
In addition to balancing these factors when making a decision, the court will consider whether or not the changes in financial circumstances:
- Are material changes;
- Are substantial changes;
- Were involuntary, or voluntary but in good faith;
- Are continuous and are not temporary; or
- Occurred after or were not considered at the time of establishing the amount of child support to be paid.
Another circumstance in which a child support order may be modified is when the custodial parent’s income increases, which would justify a reduction in the amount of child support needed from the noncustodial parent. Typically, an order may not be justified because of bankruptcy, as child support is a support obligation. Further, support payments are generally determined by annual income.
A motion to modify a child support order because of a change in financial circumstances may be denied because:
- The noncustodial parent’s change in financial circumstances do not justify a reduction because it does not meet the previously discussed criteria; or
- The noncustodial parent still has the ability to make the existing child support payments, despite the change in their financial circumstances.
Once again, you must be able to prove and justify your request for a lower monthly payment. Additionally, if you intentionally quit your job in order to take a lower paying job and request a lower child support payment, you may face serious consequences. Voluntary underemployment is considered evasion of your child support obligations.
If the child support modification is approved, the court will generally issue a new child support order to be paid to the custodial parent. The new amount is usually an appropriate reflection of the decreased ability to pay the previously determined amount.
It would be in your best interest to consult with a skilled and knowledgeable child support attorney. An experienced child support attorney can educate you on your state’s specific child support laws, as well as assist you in filing a motion for modification. Additionally, they can represent you in court as needed.