As a general rule, yes, you can modify your court-ordered child support and alimony payments. However, the law grants high priority to family payments ordered upon divorce, so obtaining a modification is quite difficult.
Why Is It so Difficult to Modify My Family Payments?
When you have a child, you are legally responsible for the welfare of that child. This legal duty includes the responsibility to provide the economic support of the child until the age of 18. Thus, child support payments cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.
Furthermore, 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.
How Can I Modify My Family Support Payments?
Typically, child support and spousal support payments can be reduced by filing a “motion to modify” at your state family court. If it has been several years since the initial court-order, your chances of being granted a modification are increased.
Even if it has been several years, your situation must have changed “substantially and continuously." Substantially and continuously changed circumstances 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. You will need to argue your changed circumstances at a hearing with your local family court.
You can also modify your child support or alimony support payments through a mutual agreement with your former spouse. Any agreement should be in writing, signed by both spouses/parents. If you reach a mutual agreement to modify, a court hearing is not required, but both parents must file an uncontested motion to modify the support.
Do I Need an Attorney to Help Modify My Payments?
Modifying your child support and/or alimony payment plan is a difficult and complex process which affects you, your child, and your former spouse. You can file a motion to modify the payments and represent yourself in court or you can hire an attorney to represent you. Hiring an experienced family law attorney is advised, especially where modification is complicated due to your specific circumstances. Your attorney near you can analyze your situation and present a convincing case for modification of your family support payments.