Whether you’re paying or receiving child support, you may find yourself needing to make an adjustment to the court-ordered amount. A wide variety of factors can come into play: inflation, loss of employment, remarriage, or medical problems, for example.
Changes to a child support agreement can be permanent or temporary. Permanent changes in circumstance might result when one of the parent remarries or experiences a disability that forever affects their ability to work. Temporary modifications may be appropriate in the case of a child’s medical emergency or the medical emergency of the paying parent.
Whether temporary or permanent, here’s advice on making that change to your support agreement, and you can also reference this article on Avvo for more information.
Take action ASAP
When initially established, a child support agreement reflects a specific point in time and takes into consideration the paying parent’s earning ability and the child’s financial needs. As time goes on, that earning ability may change—for example, the paying parent loses a job or takes a different job, or one of the parents gets married and has more kids—and modifications to the support order become necessary.
The inability to meet child support demands, in and of itself, does not make them go away. The paying parent is expected to keep up with the obligation regardless of their financial situation—not even bankruptcy will relieve the responsibility. Unpaid child support will accumulate and be owed in arrears, so it’s important that the paying parent file a request for modification as soon as financial circumstances change.
Document the changes and head to court
A child support modification will be based only on changes that occur after the current support order was entered by the court. Proving that circumstances have changed requires solid documentation.
If the paying parent loses a job or experiences a significant decrease in earnings, they should document the change to present to the judge. Keeping track of efforts to obtain new employment is important as well, as the court will take this into consideration. An honest and accurate account of earnings is critical if appropriate modifications are to be made.
The modification process begins with a court filing in the same court that issued the existing child support order. A new support order will be issued for the change to take place, which means that papers are filed and served on the other parent.
Each parent will have the opportunity to address the matter before the judge. Ultimately, the court’s desire is to protect the children, so proposed changes to an existing agreement are not taken lightly. The parent requesting the change must show a significant need for the modification.
You may be able to avoid going to court
It is possible for parents to come to a new agreement without court intervention, but it’s uncommon. Some parents are able to renegotiate support terms on their own. Others turn to mediation to reach a new agreement. But even if both parents agree to a new child support amount, getting a court-ordered change is still advisable, since it’s the only way to make the new agreement enforceable.
Some child support orders include an adjustment clause that reflects changes in the annual cost of living as determined by an economic measurement, such as the Consumer Price Index. If this clause is part of your child support agreement, your payment amount can be modified without reporting to court.
It depends on where you live
Family laws are generally made at the state level and thereby differ from one state to another. A given change in circumstances may warrant a support modification in one state but not another. Reaching out to a local child support attorney is always a good idea. Many family attorneys will provide a review of the case at little or no cost.
Federal enforcement of child support obligation does come into play under certain circumstances. The Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act (DPPA) of 1998 makes it a federal crime to evade child support for a child who lives in another state. The offense is punishable by fines and up to six months in prison if the court-ordered support payment is past due for a year or longer, or the past due amount exceeds $5,000. If court-ordered child support is more than two years past due, or the past due amount exceeds $10,000, the offender faces fines and up to two years of prison time.